J. Robert Oppenheimer Essay

J. Robert Oppenheimer Essay

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“There must be no barriers to freedom of inquiry. There is no place for dogma in science. The scientist is free, and must be free to ask any question, to doubt any assertion, to seek for any evidence, to correct any errors. Our political life is also predicated on openness. We know that the only way to avoid error is to detect it and that the only way to detect it is to be free to inquire. And we know that as long as [we] are free to ask what [we] must, free to say what [we] think, free to think what [we] will, freedom can never be lost, and science can never regress.”

J. Robert Oppenheimer

A man who is almost synonymous with the development of the atomic bomb as well as with the conflicts between the desires of the government and the demands of the conscience, J. Robert Oppenheimer is one of the most influential physicists of our time.

J. Robert Oppenheimer was born to a wealthy Jewish couple in New York in 1904. His father Julius Oppenheimer was a textile importer and his mother Ella Friedman was a painter. In his early years, he was interested in mineral collection and began to start sending letters to the New York Mineralogy Club. At age 12, the club asked him to present a paper unaware of his youth. He was successful in school, and his early education was done at the Ethical Culture School in New York until he graduated in 1921.

After his high school education, a case of dysentery postponed his entrance into Harvard until 1922. He studied mostly math and science, showing a preference for chemistry saying that it was “at the heart of things.” He also showed a great affinity for learning languages and throughout his life he would pick up a language quickly in order to read a text in its original form. Finally,...


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...ed privileges. It quickly degenerated into humiliation of Oppenheimer’s stance on the development of the H-bomb as “un-American.” He was attacked for being soft on Communism. He made little effort to defend himself, seemingly uncaring as to his own fate. In the end, the committee voted 4-1 against reinstating him, stating that he was a risk due to “fundamental defects in his character.”

Oppenheimer returned to collegiate life, taking a post at Princeton. He spent most of the rest of his days in relative obscurity, publishing a series of articles on ethics and morality near the end of his life. He had seemed to lose his fire for scientific work with his denouncement. The scientific community was shocked and torn on what had happened to Oppenheimer, and he remains one of the most significant victims of McCarthyism. Oppenheimer succumbed to throat cancer in 1967.

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