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J. Robert Oppenheimer(1904-1967)
Many of us may be unaware of the creature named Julius Robert Oppenheimer. Actually, he is a human, great theoretical Physicist of USA.
He arrived in this planet on April 22, 1904 in New York City. He belonged to Jewish family, his father, Julius S. Oppenheimer was wealthy German textile merchant who immigrated to the United States from Germany ; and his mother was Ella Friedman, an artist. He has a brother Frank Oppenheimer(worked at Manhaton Project), a Physicist,who paid price for being brother of J.R Oppenheimer as he was overshadowed by his talent.
If you are still interested in this article ,it is worth telling you that J.R. Oppenheimer is remembered as “Father of Atomic Bomb”
for his work as Scientific Director of the Manhattan Project at the secret Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico,America. He also named the first nuclear test as Trinity. Oppenheimer used to say that "physics and desert country" were his "two great loves", loves that would be combined when he directed the atomic bomb project at Los Alamos in New Mexico.
Best decribed as a tall, thin ,chain smoker, non smiling ,taciturn, often blamed for spreading melancholy and insecurity by his friends,however a brilliant student and expert of his field.
School and Graduation:
Oppenheimer studied at Fieldston, and the physics classroom he studied is now named after him and still is in original state to this day. He entered Harvard College one year late because he had suffered an attack of colitis. He made up for the delay caused by his illness by taking six courses each term and graduating summa cum laude(Latin Honours,similar to our distinction) in just three years, where he majored in Chemistry, however ,later in his life diverted to Physics. As an undergraduate he never took a class in physics. During a course on thermodynamics taught by Percy Bridgman Oppenheimer found himself drawn to experimental physics.
After he want to Cavendish Labrotary to work under JJ Thomson.
In 1926, Oppenheimer went to the University of Göttingen to study under Max Born, obtaining his Ph.D. at the age of 22. Oppenheimer was known for being a quick student. However, he was also known for being too enthusiastic in discussions, sometimes to the point of taking over seminar sessions, a fact that irritated some of Max Born's pupils so much that they signed a petition to make Oppenheimer stay quiet during class (Born left it out on his desk where Oppenheimer could read it, and it was effective without a word needing to be said).One of the anecdote is that: after the oral exam for his Ph.D., the professor administering it is reported to have said, "Phew, I'm glad that's over. He was on the point of questioning me."
Articles and papers
#In the 1930s, he was the first to write papers suggesting the existence of what we today call black holes. In these papers, he demonstrated that there was a size limit (the so called Tolman-Oppenheimer-Volkoff limit) to stars beyond which they would not remain stable as neutron stars, and would undergo gravitational collapse.(however this ranks second in his list of contribution)
#At Göttingen, Oppenheimer published more than a dozen articles, including many important contributions to the then newly-developed quantum theory, most notably a famous paper on the so-called Born-Oppenheimer approximation, which separates nuclear motion from electronic motion in the mathematical treatment of molecules. (This one is considered most important ofall his contribution).
#Oppenheimer's other notable achievements in physics include work on electron-positron theory, the Oppenheimer-Phillips process, and a first prediction of quantum tunneling. With his students he also made important contributions to the modern theory of neutron stars and black holes, as well as work on the theory of quantum mechanics, quantum field theory, and the interactions of cosmic rays.
Versatility and why make him our Idol?
His grade in Harvard University is one of the top till this date.He was a versatile scholar, and was never confined in a single subject.His early education was at the Ethical Culture School in New York. He took math and science classes, but also enthusiastically studied Greek, Latin, French, and German. He had a feel for languages and often learned one quickly just to read something in its original language. He learned Dutch in six weeks in order to give a technical talk in the Netherlands. He also maintained an interest in classics and eastern philosophy throughout his life.
He was interested in the humanities, psychotherapy, Greek Architecture, horse riding and science.He was also very interested in math and science, and considered a serious student and a rather intense person by his peers. One anecdote follows: he used to say Bhagavad Gita was the most influential book to shape his Philosophy, which he read original language(Sanskrit). He used to recite some verse from Gita and translate that to English and Correlate it with Physics, this is one of his virtue that I personally admire. He gave lecture in the native language wherever he used to go for his lecture.
At University of Leiden, the Netherlands, where he impressed those there by giving lectures in Dutch despite having little experience with the language. There he was given the nickname of "Opje", which was later Anglicized by his students as "Oppie".
To talk about his traits;during his work at Manhattan Project he did not direct from the head office. He was intellectually and even physically present at each decisive step. He was present in the laboratory or in the seminar rooms, when a new effect was measured, when a new idea was conceived. It was not that he contributed so many ideas or suggestions; he did so sometimes, but his main influence came from something else. It was his continuous and intense presence, which produced a sense of direct participation in all of us; it created that unique atmosphere of enthusiasm and challenge that pervaded the place throughout its time. This is the reason he was able to handle 3000 top Scientists of that era.
Oppy' was involved with all parts of the project, from recruiting many of the scientists to helping engineers purify uranium. He had predicted that it would take four years to complete the bomb, but 27 months after the project began, it had produced a successful atomic bomb. He was at first very optimistic about the bomb, but when Edward Teller (his scientific rival) began work on the more powerful Hydrogen bomb, he decided that the UN should gain control of further nuclear development.
In his life he toured Europe and Japan, giving talks about the history of science, the role of science in society, and the nature of the universe. On May 3, 1962 he was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society
It was said of Oppenheimer, "He's a genius. A real genius...Why, Oppenheimer knows about everything. He can talk to you about anything you bring up. Well not exactly. I guess there are a few things he doesn't know about. He doesn't know anything about sports"…………………….
He was said to be mesmerizing, hypnotic in private interaction but often frigid in more public settings. His associates fell into two camps: one that saw him as an aloof and impressive genius and an aesthete; another that saw him as a pretentious and insecure poseur. His students almost always fell into the former category, adopting "Oppie's" affectations, from his way of walking to talking and beyond—even trying to replicate his inclination for reading entire texts in their original languages.
Many people thought that Oppenheimer's discoveries and research were not commensurate with his inherent abilities and talents. They still considered him an outstanding physicist, but they did not place him at the very top rank of theorists .Even beyond the immense abstruseness of the topics he was expert in;his papers were considered difficult to understand. I believe that it would be arduous job to become his teaching assistant for almost anyone. Oppenheimer was very fond of using elegant, if extremely complex, mathematical techniques to demonstrate physical principles though he was sometimes criticized for making mathematical mistakes, presumably out of haste. "His physics was good," said his student Snyder, "but his arithmetic awful."mentally challenged the frontiers of knowledge. One reason for this could have been his diverse interests, which kept him from completely focusing on any individual topic for long.
Unsonged Hero
Oppenheimer made a number of friends who would go on to great success, such as Werner Heisenberg, Pascual Jordan, Wolfgang Pauli, Paul Dirac, Enrico Fermi and Edward Teller.And many great people worked under him Viz, Richard P Feyman, Wolfgang Pauli&c.
I personally feel Oppenheimer as “Unsonged Hero”-despite of his talent and his intense insight into Physics, he never got any prize or reward. Many of his colleagues and his students got Noble Memorable Prize, which he was deprived of. Although he got Fermi(actually his previous friend) award that ,too, was politically motivated ,in fact, a solace for his long trial for being related to Communism, however, with the prize money he bought a ranch in New Mexico and named it as "Perro Caliente", which is the translation of "hot dog" into Spanish. May be any award that had similitude at the level of his talent and knowledge.He died of throat cancer in 1967.

"Science is not everything, but science is very beautiful."

©  Sandeep Tripathi