Freedom and Necessity in the Sciences
J. Robert Oppenheimer
Dartmouth College, 14 April 1959
Lecture and related documents from the collections of the Library of Congress
Oppenheimer's lecture was given as part of the 1958-1959 Dartmouth College Lecture Series and the Independent Reading Program. It was subsequently re-broadcast on WDCR.
Letters, telegram, and audio materials are reproduced here with the kind assistance of the Library of Congress Manuscript Division, who hold the originals in the Papers of J. Robert Oppenheimer, and in the Motion Picture, Broadcast, and Recorded Sound Division, National Audiovisual Conservation Center, Packard Campus, Culpeper, VA.
J. Robert Oppenheimer (1904-1967) is best known as "the father of the atomic bomb." He was a physicist and scientific administrator who headed the Manhattan Project, the United States' successful endeavor to build an atomic weapon of mass destruction.
Oppenheimer was born into a wealthy family in New York. He attended the Ethical Culture Fieldston School and gained admittance to Harvard University, where he began with a focus in chemistry but ended with a focus in physics. He studied under Ernest Rutherford at Cambridge and obtained his PhD in Germany, returning to the United States in 1929 to positions at both the University of California at Berkeley and the California Institute of Technology. His skills as a teacher and theoretician earned him great renown.
In the late 1930s, Oppenheimer became heavily involved with left-wing political groups and took a strong stand against fascism. As the United States entered World War II and the news arrived that the Germans had split the atom, President Roosevelt established the Manhattan Project, hoping to engineer a deadly atomic weapon before the Nazi camp could do the same. In June 1942, Oppenheimer was appointed the director of the Manhattan Project.
On July 16, 1945, an atomic bomb was exploded in the New Mexico desert. Soon after, two atomic bombs targeted the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, killing thousands of people immediately and releasing deadly radiation that would kill thousands more. Though jubilant at first, Oppenheimer soon stated to President Truman, "Mr. President, I feel I have blood on my hands."
After the war, Oppenheimer was appointed the director of the Atomic Energy Commission. Acknowledging the devastation such a weapon would cause, he opposed the creation of the hydrogen bomb. He was accused of having communist sympathies and, in 1953, was removed from his position. He became the director of the Institute of Advanced Study at Princeton and spoke publicly on the nature of science and culture for the next several years, speaking at Dartmouth College in 1959.
Oppenheimer received the Enrico Fermi award in 1966 but was never given high security clearance again. He died of throat cancer in 1967.
"J. Robert Oppenheimer." A Science Odyssey: People and Discoveries. WGBH. PBS Online. 1998. Web. 3 February 2012.
"Julius Robert Oppenheimer." The Nuclear Age Peace Foundation. Nuclearfiles.org. 2012. Web. 2 February 2012.
This website was researched and created by Laura J. Neill '13, The Edward Connery Lathem ’51 Digital Library Intern for Winter Term 2012, for the Dartmouth College Library Digital Program.