Liberal Arts Blog -Oppenheimer — does he deserve the epithet, “Father of the Atomic Bomb”?

John Muresianu
5 min readDec 6, 2023

Liberal Arts Blog — Wednesday is the Joy of Science, Engineering, and Technology Day

Today’s Topic — Oppenheimer — does he deserve the epithet, “Father of the Atomic Bomb”?

Today, a little challenge for all you physicists, chemists, and historians of science and technology.

The atomic bomb has many fathers and mothers. Which deserve how much credit (or blame)? Imagine a two or a three column proof telling the story graphically with numbers. The first column is the name of the person. The second the basic reason. And the third your best shot at the weight of the claim. The list could be arranged chronologically or by weight or by some other category such as physics, chemistry, engineering, organization. I just saw the movie. Did you? Thoughts? Biggest positives? negatives?

Experts — please chime in. Correct, elaborate, elucidate.

FRAMING IS EVERYTHING — the “bomb” versus the Manhattan Project versus the fact that the Allies got there before Hitler did

1. Should Hitler’s anti-semitism get 10%, 20%, 30%, 50% of the credit for why the Allies got there first?

2. Oppenheimer in the film states that Hitler considered atomic physics a “Jewish science” and because of that allocated less resources than he otherwise would have. Did Oppenheimer actually say this? or write it?

3. “According to a May 1945 roster, Jews made up about two-thirds of the leadership in the Manhattan Project’s Theoretical Division (T-Division) — the group tased with calculating critical mass and modeling implosions).”

NB: A list of the leaders who were Jewish includes: Oppenheimer, Hans Bethe, Victor Weisskopf, John von Neumann, Sir Rudolph Peierls, Robert Serber, Richard Feynmann, Joseph Hirschfelder, George Placzek.

EINSTEIN, SZILARD, ROOSEVELT — THE LETTER WARNING ROOSEVELT (August 2, 1939)

1. Szilard got Einstein to write the letter.

2. Einstein wrote the letter.

3. Roosevelt made the decision.

GROVES, OPPENHEIMER — THE ORCHESTRATION

1. Conductors of orchestras are key.

2. What is appropriate allocation of credit between Groves and Oppenheimer?

3. Groves hired Oppenheimer.

NB: How much credit to the Dupont company and its managers who did most (?) of the behind the scenes work?

FOOTNOTE A — The Manhattan Project

1. “The Manhattan Project grew rapidly and employed nearly 130,000 people at its peak and cost nearly US$2 billion (equivalent to about $26 billion in 2022).

2. “Over 90 percent of the cost was for building factories and to produce fissile material, with less than 10 percent for development and production of the weapons”

3. Research and production took place at more than 30 sites across the United States, the United Kingdom, and Canada.”

FOOTNOTE B — Los Alamos — in context

1. “In September 1942, the difficulties encountered in conducting preliminary studies on nuclear weapons at universities scattered across the country indicated the need for a laboratory dedicated solely to that purpose.”

2. “The work of the laboratory culminated in several atomic devices, one of which was used in the first nuclear test near Almagordo, New Mexico, codenamed “Trinity” on July 16, 1945. The other trwo were weapons, “Little Boy,” and “Fat Man,” which were used in the attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.”

3. “The location was a total secret. Its only mailing address was a post office box, number 1663, in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Eventually two other office boxes were used, 180 and 1539, also in Santa Fe.”

J. Robert Oppenheimer — Wikipedia

Manhattan Project — Wikipedia

https://discover.lanl.gov/news/0127-jews-in-theory/#:~:text=According%20to%20a%20May%201945,uninterrupted%20history%20since%20Project%20Y.

Jewish employees of the Manhattan Project

Einstein–Szilard letter — Wikipedia

Oppenheimer (film) — Wikipedia

Manhattan Project Spotlight: E.I. du Pont de Nemours & Company — Nuclear Museum

Timeline of the Manhattan Project — Wikipedia

QUOTE OF THE MONTH

“Make your own Bible. Select and collect all the words and sentences that in all your readings have been to you like the blast of a trumpet.”

- Ralph Waldo Emerson

My spin — then periodically review, re-rank, and exchange your list with those you love. I call this the “Orion Exchange” because seven is about as many as any human can digest at a time. Game?

A LINK TO THE LAST FOUR YEARS OF POSTS ORGANIZED BY THEME:

PDF with headlines — Google Drive

PDF with headlines — Google Drive

ATTACHMENT BELOW -

#1 A graphic guide to justice (9 metaphors on one page).

#2 “39 Songs, Prayers, and Poems: the Keys to the Hearts of Seven Billion People” — Adams House Senior Common Room Presentation, (11/17/20)

#3 Israel-Palestine Handout

NB: Palestine Orion (Decision) — let’s exchange Orions, let’s find Rumi’s field (“Beyond all ideas of right and wrong, there is a field. Meet me there” Rumi, 13 century Persian Sufi mystic)

YOUR TURN

Please share the coolest thing you learned this week related to science, engineering, or technology.

Or, even better, the coolest or most important thing you learned in your life related to science and engineering.

This is your chance to make someone else’s day. Or to cement in your mind something that you might otherwise forget. Or to think more deeply about something dear to your heart. Continuity is key to depth of thought.

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John Muresianu

Passionate about education, thinking citizenship, art, and passing bits on of wisdom of a long lifetime.