Oppenheimer Facts
Oppenheimer Facts

23 Enigmatic Oppenheimer Facts

Karin Lehnardt
By Karin Lehnardt, Senior Writer
Published May 11, 2024
  • Oppenheimer was multilingual and knew Sanskrit, German, Dutch, and English.[6]
  • Oppenheimer had a younger brother, Frank, who was also a physicist.[4]
  • Oppenheimer was terribly bored at Cambridge and wrote to a friend: "The lab is a terrible bore, and I am so bad at it. ... The lectures are vile."[4]
  • In 1925, Oppenheimer graduated summa cum laude from Harvard with a BA, after only three years of study. While there, he studied mathematics, science, philosophy, Eastern religion, and French and English literature.[4]
  • After one of Oppenheimer's professors told him that he couldn't attend a lecture by Niels Bohr, Oppenheimer allegedly decided to inject the professor's apple with a chemical and left it on his desk. His parents had to intervene to keep him from getting expelled.[5]
  • Oppenheimer childhood Fact
    A young Oppenheimer with his father, Julius, around 1925
  • Oppenheimer's father was a German immigrant and successful textile businessman. His mother was a painter whose family lived in New York for generations. They were Jewish but nonobservant.[4]
  • Due to a severe case of dysentery, Oppenheimer delayed enrolling in Harvard for a year. His parents sent him to a New Mexico ranch to recover. He fell in love with the state and chose the desert Los Alamos ranch for the Manhattan Project's secret town.[4]
  • Oppenheimer studied Sanskrit and Hindu. After the first nuclear bomb test on July 16, 1945, he paraphrased from the Hindu scripture Bhagavad Gita: "Now I am become death, the destroyer of worlds."[4]
  • One Japanese citizen who watched Oppenheimer said, "I think even though the inventor is one of the perpetrators, he's also the victim caught up in the war."[2]
  • Oppenheimer became interested in communism during the Great Depression. While he never joined the party, his brother and his wife did. Oppenheimer's enemies used his association with the Communist Party to smear him later.[4]
  • As director of the Manhattan Project's Los Alamos Laboratory during WW II, Oppenheimer was known as the "father of the atomic bomb."[6]
  • Trinity Test Fact
    The Trinity test on July 16, 1945, marked the beginning of the Atomic Age

  • Because the movies Oppenheimer and Barbie were released at the same time, the event was nicknamed "Barbenheimer." However, some Japanese felt that the unofficial nickname trivialized the 1945 attacks.[2]
  • The 2023 movie Oppenheimer has become the highest grossing movie set during WW II.[2]
  • After World War II, Oppenheimer lobbied for international control of nuclear power and opposed the development of the hydrogen bomb, which put him at odds with the U.S. government.[4]
  • In 1954, the United States revoked Oppenheimer's security clearance, which ended his career as an advisor to the government. It wasn't until December 2022 that the U.S. Department of Energy vacated the decision to revoke his clearance and officially acknowledged that his trial was unfair.[4]
  • Oppenheimer was very concerned with the general public's lack of scientific understanding. He wrote a popular essay titled "Science and the Common Understanding," which discussed how scientific discoveries are misunderstood and misused.[7]
  • To play the famously slender Oppenheimer, actor Cillian Murphy lost quite a bit of weight. His co-stars noted he only ate "like, an almond every day."[1]
  • Oppenheimer and Einstein Facts
    Oppenheimer and Einstein's relationship was cordial and more complicated than the 2023 Oppenheimer movie suggests
  • Einstein once wrote that "the trouble with Oppenheimer is that he loves a woman who doesn't love him—the United States government." Later in his life, Oppenheimer did become a government outsider, which Einstein viewed as a good thing, but it's something Oppenheimer really never got over.[3]
  • When Oppenheimer was 12, he presented a research paper to the New York Mineralogical Club and became an honorary member.[7]
  • Oppenheimer learned Dutch in six weeks so he could deliver a lecture in the Netherlands. While he was in Denmark, he was first nicked named "Oppie."[7]
  • Oppenheimer once told a friend, "It's no fun to turn the pages of a book and say, 'yes, yes, of course, I know that.'"[7]
  • Oppenheimer died in New Jersey on February 18, 1967, after unsuccessful treatments for throat cancer. He left behind his wife, Kitty, and their two children. Nearly 600 people attended his memorial service at Princeton.[7]
  • Though Oppenheimer was nominated for a Nobel Prize, he never won.[7]
  • Surprising Oppenheimer Infographic INFOGRAPHIC
    Oppenheimer Infographic

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