The life of the father of the atomic bomb

UNITED STATES Despite creating the "necessary" weapons to end the war, completely destroy two cities, and usher in a new era, Julius Robert Oppenheimer opposed nuclear proliferation for the rest of his life.

Theoretical physicist Julius Robert Oppenheimer. Photo: The Thomas Jefferson Hour

Born in New York City in 1904, Julius Robert Oppenheimer was the son of a German-Jewish immigrant who became rich by trading imported fabrics. He graduated with distinction from Harvard University after only three years of study, then studied theoretical physics at both the University of Cambridge, UK and the University of Göttingen, Germany, where he obtained his doctorate at the age of 23.

The young physicist quickly became friends with the greatest scientists of his day. His scholarly work advances quantum theory and predicts everything from neutrons to black holes. He was also an avid learner outside of scientific fields, such as studying Sanskrit or studying religion.

After the United States joined the Allies in 1941, Oppenheimer was invited to participate in the top secret Manhattan project to develop nuclear weapons. While the researcher struggled to understand what was needed to trigger and sustain the neutron chain reaction to create a nuclear explosion, Oppenheimer's superiors were impressed with his broad knowledge, ambition, ability and ability. work and inspire other scientists. In 1942, the US military appointed Oppenheimer as head of a secret bomb testing laboratory.

While military authorities searched for a suitable location for the lab, Oppenheimer suggested the location of Los Alamos Ranch, a private boys' school near Santa Fe. Before long, he was directing hundreds, then thousands, of employees at the Los Alamos Laboratory.

Oppenheimer not only assembled a team of the best minds of the era, he also inspired, motivated, organized and encouraged them to perform. On July 16, 1945, Oppenheimer and his team gathered at the Trinity test site south of Los Alamos for the world's first nuclear explosion. It was a very stressful time. Scientists know well that the bomb nicknamed "Gadget" will shape the future of the world. But they were also convinced it could end World War II. Although the war in Europe has ended, US authorities fear the bloodiest phase of the war is still ahead. They hoped to force Japan to surrender instead of threatening to use new weapons. The test conducted in secret was successful.

On August 6 and August 9, 1945, the United States dropped two bombs that Oppenheimer participated in developing on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, respectively. At least 110,000 people were killed in explosions that wiped out both cities on a scale never seen before or after. Oppenheimer served on a scientific panel that recommended that the War Department deploy bombs on Japan as soon as possible. Debates continue over whether the government heeded the scientists' pleas to drop bombs only on military targets, or even openly experimented with attempts to force Japanese surrender.

The night before the bombing of Hiroshima, Oppenheimer was cheered by a crowd of fellow scientists at Los Alamos, and declared his only regret was not completing the bomb in time to fight the German army. But despite the excitement of the achievement, scientists are still appalled by the loss of life in the attack, fearing that nuclear weapons could spark rather than prevent future wars. A few weeks after the bombing, Oppenheimer wrote a letter to the Secretary of War warning that "the safety of this nation cannot lie wholly or principally in scientific or technological strength. It can only based on making future wars impossible".

But Oppenheimer also defended the Manhattan project and the bomb he was assigned to build, saying it was essential to understanding the possibilities of nuclear science. However, Oppenheimer spent most of his life calling for the abolition of nuclear weapons, opposing the United States' development of a more powerful hydrogen bomb. According to him, the US should consider using tactical nuclear weapons and pursue other uses of nuclear technology such as energy production.

Oppenheimer never returned to government work, instead founding the World Academy of Arts and Sciences, teaching science until his death in 1967.

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