Frank Oppenheimer

Frank Oppenheimer

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Frank Friedman Oppenheimer (August 14, 1912 – February 3, 1985) was an American physicist
Physicist
A physicist is a scientist who studies or practices physics. Physicists study a wide range of physical phenomena in many branches of physics spanning all length scales: from sub-atomic particles of which all ordinary matter is made to the behavior of the material Universe as a whole...

 who worked on the Manhattan Project
Manhattan Project
The Manhattan Project was a research and development program, led by the United States with participation from the United Kingdom and Canada, that produced the first atomic bomb during World War II. From 1942 to 1946, the project was under the direction of Major General Leslie Groves of the US Army...

, was a target of McCarthyism
McCarthyism
McCarthyism is the practice of making accusations of disloyalty, subversion, or treason without proper regard for evidence. The term has its origins in the period in the United States known as the Second Red Scare, lasting roughly from the late 1940s to the late 1950s and characterized by...

, and was later the founder of the Exploratorium
Exploratorium
The Exploratorium is a museum in San Francisco with over 475 participatory exhibits, all of them made onsite, that mix science and art. It also aims to promote museums as informal education centers....

 in San Francisco. He was the younger brother of J. Robert Oppenheimer, the first director of Los Alamos National Laboratory
Los Alamos National Laboratory
Los Alamos National Laboratory is a United States Department of Energy national laboratory, managed and operated by Los Alamos National Security , located in Los Alamos, New Mexico...

.

Early life and education



Frank Friedman Oppenheimer was born in 1912 in New York City. During his childhood, he studied painting and then the flute under Barrera, becoming competent enough at the instrument to consider a career as a flautist
Flautist
A flautist or flutist is a musician who plays an instrument in the flute family. See List of flautists.The choice of "flautist" versus "flutist" is the source of dispute among players of the instrument...

., Frank eventually followed his brother's encouragement and became a physicist as well. After graduating from Johns Hopkins University
Johns Hopkins University
The Johns Hopkins University, commonly referred to as Johns Hopkins, JHU, or simply Hopkins, is a private research university based in Baltimore, Maryland, United States...

 in 1933, he studied for a year and a half at the Cavendish Laboratory
Cavendish Laboratory
The Cavendish Laboratory is the Department of Physics at the University of Cambridge, and is part of the university's School of Physical Sciences. It was opened in 1874 as a teaching laboratory....

 in Cambridge, England. In 1935, he worked on the development of nuclear
Subatomic particle
In physics or chemistry, subatomic particles are the smaller particles composing nucleons and atoms. There are two types of subatomic particles: elementary particles, which are not made of other particles, and composite particles...

 particle counters at the Institute di Arcetri
Arcetri Observatory
The Osservatorio Astrofisico di Arcetri is an astronomical observatory located in Arcetri in the outskirts of Florence, Italy. Observatory staff carry out theoretical and observational astronomy as well as designing and constructing astronomical instrumentation...

 in Florence, Italy.

While completing his Ph.D.
Doctor of Philosophy
Doctor of Philosophy, abbreviated as Ph.D., PhD, D.Phil., or DPhil , in English-speaking countries, is a postgraduate academic degree awarded by universities...

 work at the California Institute of Technology
California Institute of Technology
The California Institute of Technology is a private research university located in Pasadena, California, United States. Caltech has six academic divisions with strong emphases on science and engineering...

, Oppenheimer became engaged to Jaquenette Quann, an economics
Economics
Economics is the social science that analyzes the production, distribution, and consumption of goods and services. The term economics comes from the Ancient Greek from + , hence "rules of the house"...

 student at the University of California, Berkeley
University of California, Berkeley
The University of California, Berkeley , is a teaching and research university established in 1868 and located in Berkeley, California, USA...

 who was active in the Young Communist League
Young Communist League, USA
The Young Communist League USA is the fraternal youth organization of the Communist Party USA. Although the name of the group has changed a number of times over the years, it dates its lineage back to 1920, shortly after the establishment of the first communist parties in America.-Early years:The...

. Robert recommended against it, but despite this in 1936 Frank and Jackie were married, and soon had both joined the American Communist Party — also against Robert's recommendations.

Physics career


During World War II
World War II
World War II, or the Second World War , was a global conflict lasting from 1939 to 1945, involving most of the world's nations—including all of the great powers—eventually forming two opposing military alliances: the Allies and the Axis...

, Robert became scientific director of the Manhattan Project
Manhattan Project
The Manhattan Project was a research and development program, led by the United States with participation from the United Kingdom and Canada, that produced the first atomic bomb during World War II. From 1942 to 1946, the project was under the direction of Major General Leslie Groves of the US Army...

, the Allied effort to produce the first atomic weapons. From 1941 to 1945 Frank worked at the University of California Radiation Laboratory
Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory
The Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory , is a U.S. Department of Energy national laboratory conducting unclassified scientific research. It is located on the grounds of the University of California, Berkeley, in the Berkeley Hills above the central campus...

 on the problem of uranium
Uranium
Uranium is a silvery-white metallic chemical element in the actinide series of the periodic table, with atomic number 92. It is assigned the chemical symbol U. A uranium atom has 92 protons and 92 electrons, of which 6 are valence electrons...

 isotope
Isotope
Isotopes are variants of atoms of a particular chemical element, which have differing numbers of neutrons. Atoms of a particular element by definition must contain the same number of protons but may have a distinct number of neutrons which differs from atom to atom, without changing the designation...

 separation under the direction of his brother's good friend, Ernest O. Lawrence.In 1945 he was sent to the enrichment facility at Oak Ridge, Tennessee
Oak Ridge, Tennessee
Oak Ridge is a city in Anderson and Roane counties in the eastern part of the U.S. state of Tennessee, about west of Knoxville. Oak Ridge's population was 27,387 at the 2000 census...

 to help monitor the equipment, and then later in the year arrived at the secret Los Alamos
Los Alamos National Laboratory
Los Alamos National Laboratory is a United States Department of Energy national laboratory, managed and operated by Los Alamos National Security , located in Los Alamos, New Mexico...

 laboratory which his brother was running.

After the war, Oppenheimer returned to Berkeley, working with Luis Alvarez
Luis Alvarez
Luis W. Alvarez was an American experimental physicist and inventor, who spent nearly all of his long professional career on the faculty of the University of California, Berkeley...

 and Wolfgang Panofsky to develop the proton
Proton
The proton is a subatomic particle with the symbol or and a positive electric charge of 1 elementary charge. One or more protons are present in the nucleus of each atom, along with neutrons. The number of protons in each atom is its atomic number....

 linear accelerator. In 1947 he took a position as Assistant Professor of Physics at the University of Minnesota
University of Minnesota
The University of Minnesota, Twin Cities is a public research university located in Minneapolis and St. Paul, Minnesota, United States. It is the oldest and largest part of the University of Minnesota system and has the fourth-largest main campus student body in the United States, with 52,557...

.

Political scrutiny and blacklisting


On July 12, 1947 the Washington Times Herald reported that Oppenheimer had been a member of the Communist Party during the years 1937-1939. At first, he denied these reports, but later admitted they were true
. In June 1949, as part of a larger investigation on the possible mishandling of "atomic secrets" during the war, he was called before the United States Congress House Un-American Activities Committee
House Un-American Activities Committee
The House Committee on Un-American Activities or House Un-American Activities Committee was an investigative committee of the United States House of Representatives. In 1969, the House changed the committee's name to "House Committee on Internal Security"...

 (HUAC). Before the Committee, he testified that he and his wife had been members of the Communist Party for about three and a half years. In 1937 they had been involved in local attempts to desegregate the Pasadena
Pasadena, California
Pasadena is a city in Los Angeles County, California, United States. Although famous for hosting the annual Rose Bowl football game and Tournament of Roses Parade, Pasadena is the home to many scientific and cultural institutions, including the California Institute of Technology , the Jet...

 public swimming pool, which was open to non-whites only on Wednesday, after which the pool was drained and the water replaced. Oppenheimer said he and his wife had joined at a time when they sought answers to the high unemployment experienced in the United States during the later part of the Great Depression
Great Depression
The Great Depression was a severe worldwide economic depression in the decade preceding World War II. The timing of the Great Depression varied across nations, but in most countries it started in about 1929 and lasted until the late 1930s or early 1940s...

. He refused to name others he knew to be members. This caused a media sensation — that J. Robert Oppenheimer's brother was an admitted former member of the Communist Party — and led to Frank resigning from his post at the University of Minnesota.

After being branded a Communist, Oppenheimer could no longer find work in physics. Frank and Jackie eventually sold one of the Van Gogh
Vincent van Gogh
Vincent Willem van Gogh , and used Brabant dialect in his writing; it is therefore likely that he himself pronounced his name with a Brabant accent: , with a voiced V and palatalized G and gh. In France, where much of his work was produced, it is...

 paintings he had inherited from his father, and with the money bought land in Pagosa Springs, Colorado
Pagosa Springs, Colorado
Pagosa Springs is a Home Rule Municipality that is the county seat of, and the only incorporated municipality in, Archuleta County, Colorado, United States. The population was 1,591 at the 2000 census...

, and started life over again as cattle farmers, also briefly teaching science at Pagosa Springs High School. Under Oppenheimer's tutelage, several students from Pagosa Springs High School took first prize at the Colorado State Science Fair .

In 1957, the Red Scare had lessened to the point that Oppenheimer was allowed to teach science at a local high school. In two years, supported by endorsements by Hans Bethe
Hans Bethe
Hans Albrecht Bethe was a German-American nuclear physicist, and Nobel laureate in physics for his work on the theory of stellar nucleosynthesis. A versatile theoretical physicist, Bethe also made important contributions to quantum electrodynamics, nuclear physics, solid-state physics and...

, George Gamow
George Gamow
George Gamow , born Georgiy Antonovich Gamov , was a Russian-born theoretical physicist and cosmologist. He discovered alpha decay via quantum tunneling and worked on radioactive decay of the atomic nucleus, star formation, stellar nucleosynthesis, Big Bang nucleosynthesis, cosmic microwave...

 and Victor Weisskopf, he was offered a position at the University of Colorado
University of Colorado at Boulder
The University of Colorado Boulder is a public research university located in Boulder, Colorado...

 teaching physics, and it was there that he began to take an interest in developing improvements in science education. He was eventually awarded a grant from the National Science Foundation
National Science Foundation
The National Science Foundation is a United States government agency that supports fundamental research and education in all the non-medical fields of science and engineering. Its medical counterpart is the National Institutes of Health...

 to develop new pedagogical methods, which resulted in a "Library of Experiments" — nearly one hundred models of classical laboratory experiments which could be used in aiding the teaching of physics to elementary school children (Oppenheimer was the one who made the often-referenced quote "the best way to learn is to teach").

Later life


In 1965, Oppenheimer was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship
Guggenheim Fellowship
Guggenheim Fellowships are American grants that have been awarded annually since 1925 by the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation to those "who have demonstrated exceptional capacity for productive scholarship or exceptional creative ability in the arts." Each year, the foundation makes...

 to study the history of physics
History of science
The history of science is the study of the historical development of human understandings of the natural world and the domains of the social sciences....

 and conduct bubble chamber
Bubble chamber
A bubble chamber is a vessel filled with a superheated transparent liquid used to detect electrically charged particles moving through it. It was invented in 1952 by Donald A. Glaser, for which he was awarded the 1960 Nobel Prize in Physics...

 research at University College, London, where he was exposed to European science museums for the first time. Inspired, Frank devoted the next years of his life to creating a similar resource in the United States.

Four years later, the Exploratorium
Exploratorium
The Exploratorium is a museum in San Francisco with over 475 participatory exhibits, all of them made onsite, that mix science and art. It also aims to promote museums as informal education centers....

 opened its doors for the first time — an interactive museum of art, science, and human perception based on the philosophy that science should be fun and accessible for people of all ages, set next to the stately Palace of Fine Arts
Palace of Fine Arts
The Palace of Fine Arts in the Marina District of San Francisco, California, is a monumental structure originally constructed for the 1915 Panama-Pacific Exposition in order to exhibit works of art presented there. One of only a few surviving structures from the Exposition, it is the only one still...

 of San Francisco. Until his death at his home in Sausalito, California
Sausalito, California
Sausalito is a San Francisco Bay Area city, in Marin County, California, United States. Sausalito is south-southeast of San Rafael, at an elevation of 13 feet . The population was 7,061 as of the 2010 census. The community is situated near the northern end of the Golden Gate Bridge, and prior to...

 on February 3, 1985, Frank Oppenheimer served as director to the museum and was personally involved in almost every aspect of its operations.

Interviewed by director Jon Else, Frank Oppenheimer appears throughout The Day After Trinity
The Day After Trinity
The Day After Trinity is a 1980 documentary film directed and produced by Jon H. Else in association with KTEH public television in San Jose, California. The film tells the story of J...

(1980), an Academy Award-nominated documentary about J. Robert Oppenheimer and the building of the atomic bomb.

External links