Robert J. Oppenheimer: Who was the genius behind the atomic bomb

He is considered one of the most prominent scientists of the 20th century. He was the author of important contributions to the field of modern physics, in particular to quantum mechanics. His fame is associated primarily with the creation of the first atomic bomb as part of the Manhattan Project and the subsequent crisis of consciousness that led him to abandon work on this hydrogen.

Body Robert J. Oppenheimer first of all, he was a man tormented by the soul, with a brilliant, but at the same time unstable mind, with a gloomy and suffering existence, adorned with chilling, but also extraordinary events. The separation of life from man, especially because of the consequences that this has had in world history, is by no means simple in Oppenheimer’s description of the vicissitudes of events. Science, his studies are wholly intertwined with his character, and in order to get a fuller picture of his extraordinary and painful career, it would be right to trace the main stages of his life in full.

When you see something technically sound, you do it and discuss what to do with it only after you achieve technical success. This is exactly what happened with the atomic bomb.

All of these elements were incorporated into Christopher Nolan’s most talked about (and most successful to date) film, but how much has he left out or invented in his film? First of all, it must be remembered that if Oppenheimer exists, it is only because of the book. American Prometheus The Triumph and Tragedy of J. Robert Oppenheimer2005 by Martin J. Sherwin and Kai Bird it won a Pulitzer Prize and proved to be an indispensable source for Nolan’s film.. The English director initially had only a basic knowledge of Oppenheimer and Manhattan Project when he started working on a film script, but his interest in the life of a physicist was heightened when actor Robert Pattinson – in his Tenet days – gave him a book of Oppenheimer’s speeches. To prepare for script writing, Nolan he immersed himself in research, reading American Prometheus, which became the main reference text of the film, and many other materials. In 2021, he also visited unannounced Los Alamos Historical Museum, taking a standard tour and then returning several times to browse the archives. Studying Oppenheimer, Nolan began to understand the depth trinity test: Even with the calculations of the most brilliant scientists in the world, there was a possibility that the bomb would set off a fire in the atmosphere that could destroy the planet. From this point of view, the director began to consider Oppenheimer as the most important person in the history of mankind, starting to realize the grandiose idea around the film.

From this point of view, the director began to consider Oppenheimer as the most important person in the history of mankind, starting to realize the grandiose idea around the film.

However, unlike the book, which takes place chronologically, the film overlaps three different time periods and mixes them with some flashbacks. In addition to the story of how the atomic bomb was created, the film focuses on the philosophical and moral issue regarding the relationship between scientists and the impact of their discoveries on people’s lives, in this case, the death of hundreds of thousands of people. civilians after the bombing Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Instead, the second part of the film focuses on what happened to Oppenheimer after the war, when he became an authority on global nuclear politics and was marginalized by the US ruling class under the pretense of his old ties to communism during the McCarthy years.

From academic career to the Manhattan Project

Science is not everything, but it is very beautiful

This is one of Oppenheimer’s famous quotes, which is reported on his page on the website of Los Alamos National Laboratory, one of the laboratories the study of nuclear energy and the development of the atomic bomb which he directed during the Second World War. This sentence is symbolic, because it allows us to understand in a few words his role in the scientific world: he was an absolutely academician with a great predisposition to theory, but the laboratory and the practical part of science were not realities closest to him in spirit.

But taking a step back, we can say that Oppenheimer soon proved his worth. love for science from childhood he became interested in physics, chemistry and mineralogy, and at the age of 12 he was invited by the New York Mineralogical Club to lecture. In 1922, he entered the prestigious Harvard University (USA), from which he graduated in just three years with a degree in chemistry. But he soon realized that his real passion was physics, and in 1925 he moved to Europe continue your studies. His relationship with teachers, and indeed with many students, has always been controversial and at that time risked arrest for a poisoned apple, but never eaten by the teacher, found in the lab. Because of this episode, he had to go through a psychological journey that lasted several months. After a short stay in the laboratory of the Nobel laureate in physics Joseph John Thomson, in 1927 he defended his doctoral dissertation inInstitute for Theoretical Physics of the University of Göttingen (Germany) under the leadership of Max Born, who was also awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1954 for his important contributions to the field of quantum mechanics. Not only theoretical physics, but at the same time he specialized in astrophysics, quantum physics and, above all, nuclear physics, demonstrating an unrivaled aptitude for leadership and team building.

And so it was, for this reason he was elected a general Leslie Groves as head of department Manhattan Project: development mission to realize Atomic bomb. At that time, after the discovery of fission by the Germans, Albert Einstein wrote to President Roosevelt, concerned about the fate of the world, since the next step after the discovery of fission was precisely the creation of an atomic bomb by the Nazis, and this was how the Manhattan Project was conceived (from the place where the offices of the Manhattan Engineering district created in 1942). The “top secret” (but not too big) mission was to organize and conduct research in an underground laboratory in Los Alamos. Oppenheimer since 1942 (project start date) he surrounded himself with the best nuclear physicists in the world, forming the most important research group that has ever existed in the history of science. Unlike many of his colleagues, he was always aware of his share of responsibility for the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki: “Physicists have known sinwas his inconsolable comment after the Hiroshima bombing. According to a widely circulated but apocryphal anecdote, twenty days earlier, during the trial of the Trinity, he uttered another phrase taken from the Bhagavad Gita that has gone down in history:

I became Death, the destroyer of worlds.

The Trinity Test (to which Nolan’s film is dedicated) was officially opened on July 16, 1945. the first atomic bomb in the world successfully exploded in the New Mexico desert (Native American territory). The rest of the story is told in the history books and (in a way) in Nolan’s movie.

Oppenheimer

Oppenheimer was not only the Destroyer of Worlds

The inclusion of all aspects of the life of this scientist was a utopia, since the direction of creating an object that literally changed the history of our planet was too important, and in spite of everything, in some situations it also seemed to be eclipsed, but Oppenheimer’s genius allowed him after a period of “pacifism” and struggle with a hydrogen bomb to continue research. His career was marked by important scientific discoveries., fundamental in many areas: he was an exceptional physicist – he was hired to run the Manhattan Project for a reason – and if it’s right that a film intended for the general public tells the story of a man and a bomb, then it’s a pity that the scientist, you will lose your memory. Among the many studies carried out during his long career, we will mention two.

Electronic tunnel effect. In 1928, Georgy Gamow demonstrated that the newly discovered tunneling effect could explain alpha decay: the tunneling effect is a phenomenon in which, in certain situations, quantum particles can leave the potential well, even if they do not have the energy to do so, by “jumping” the barrier. ; Oppenheimer (who was only 24 in 1928) was the first to come up with the idea of ​​applying the same concept to electrons, thereby discovering that even an electric field with an energy lower than that of the first ionization energy could knock electrons out of an atom by tunnel effect.

Gravitational contraction. In the thirties, Oppenheimer devoted himself to astrophysics and in 1939 published a very important paper on the gravitational collapse of high-mass stars (there is a slight hint in the film) – the mass limit for evolution to the white dwarf stage had already been established. calculated by Chandrasekhar. This article laid the theoretical foundations for the formation of neutron stars and black holes, in relation to which Oppenheimer’s work was absolutely innovative. The gravitational collapse model put forward in Oppenheimer’s paper turned out to be correct in the light of experimental observations in subsequent years. If you also watch the movie in the next few days, you may forget about these contributions. But remember that Oppenheimer was a great scientist, and this title of destroyer of worlds is definitely not one he would like to leave in history.

At the same time, it is appropriate to recall many other studies of Oppenheimer himself, as well as it is appropriate to recall his “unrepentance” for the actions of that period. Oppenheimer’s trials (especially the trial) demonstrated to scientists, as sociologist Daniel Bell wrote, che could no longer disagree with government policy. Since then, a limited view of how scientists should serve their country has prevailed. However, to those who asked Oppenheimer in the last years of his life if he wanted to change anything in his past, the physicist replied:

I did my duty to do the work that I had to do. At Los Alamos, I was unable to make political decisions. I would have done anything I was asked to do, even a different shaped bomb, if I thought it was technically possible.


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