J. R. Oppenheimer – Father of the Atomic Bomb

Day 287 of Colourisation Project – February 18

Challenge: to publish daily a colourised photo that has some significance around the day of publication.

From Manhattan to Hiroshima his name was synonymous with the atomic bomb.

On July 16, 1945, nuclear physicist, Julius Robert Oppenheimer witnessed the first explosion of an atomic bomb in the New Mexico desert. “We knew the world would not be the same,” he said. Within a month, two atomic bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Japan surrendered 4 days later on August 10, 1945, effectively bringing World War II to an end.

For Oppenheimer, it brought to mind words from the Bhagavad Gita:

“Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds.”

Robert Oppenheimer

Photographer: Ed Westcott ~ J. Robert Oppenheimer 1946 ~ Coloured by Loredana Crupi

New York born, Oppenheimer is often called the “father of the atomic bomb” for leading the Manhattan Project, the program that developed the first nuclear weapon during World War II. But it was a title that did not sit comfortably with him.

“I carry no weight on my conscience. Scientists are not delinquents, our work has changed the conditions in which men live, but the use made of these changes is the problem of governments, not of scientists.”

After seeing the bomb’s devastation, Oppenheimer argued against its further development, and resigned from his post that same year.

He went on to become the chairman of the General Advisory Committee of the Atomic Energy Commission, which later also opposed the development of the hydrogen bomb. Oppenheimer lobbied for international control of nuclear power to avert nuclear proliferation and an arms race with the Soviet Union. This led to accusations of Oppenheimer being a Communist sympathiser and was subsequently suspended from secret nuclear research in 1954.

Nine years later in 1963, as a gesture of political reconciliation he was awarded the $50,000 Enrico Fermi Award by President Lyndon B. Johnson, for “his outstanding contributions to theoretical physics and his scientific and administrative leadership.”

Oppenheimer told Johnson: “I think it is just possible, Mr. President, that it has taken some charity and some courage for you to make this award today.”

Oppenheimer, a heavy smoker was diagnosed with throat cancer in late 1965 and died at his home in Princeton, New Jersey, on this day, February 18, 1967, aged 62.

His obituary in The New York Times declared;

“A brilliant nuclear physicist, with a comprehensive grasp of his field, Dr. Oppenheimer was also a cultivated scholar, a humanist, a linguist of eight tongues and a brooding searcher for ultimate spiritual values. And, from the moment that the test bomb exploded at Alamogordo, New Mexico, he was haunted by the implications for man in the unleashing of the basic forces of the universe.”


“There are children playing in the streets who could solve some of my top problems in physics, because they have modes of sensory perception that I lost long ago.”   ~  J. Robert Oppenheimer

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