The story behind the summer blockbuster movie Oppenheimer, which opened across the nation on Friday, July 21, began at the University of California, Berkeley.
A 25-year-old J. Robert Oppenheimer arrived at UC Berkeley in fall 1929 as an assistant professor, and over the next dozen years established one of the greatest schools of theoretical physics in the U.S. — one that continues to this day. He made UC Berkeley’s physics department the center of American thought about the new field of quantum mechanics and how to apply it to atoms, nuclei and even neutron stars.
He and Ernest O. Lawrence, who made the campus the go-to place for experimental particle physics with his work on the atom-smashing cyclotron, were instrumental in raising the alarm that the Germans could be trying to develop an atomic bomb, and that the U.S. should do the same.
The three-hour movie, directed by Christopher Nolan and partly filmed at UC Berkeley, follows Oppenheimer through his leadership of the Manhattan Project to develop the first nuclear weapons and his subsequent humiliation when the Atomic Energy Commission stripped him of his security clearance in 1954 because of claims that he was a Communist sympathizer and an unreliable adviser.
To provide a different perspective on that history, four UC Berkeley faculty members and a nuclear physicist from Los Alamos National Laboratory have assembled for a panel discussion at 11:30 a.m. on Friday, July 28, to discuss Oppenheimer’s pre-war UC Berkeley years and his scientific and human legacy.
Watch the discussion here: