Robert Oppenheimer: who was ‘atomic bomb father’, what happened to him after Manhattan project, cause of death

Robert Oppenheimer helped to create the atomic bomb, but campaigned against nuclear weapons in later life

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Christopher Nolan’s upcoming film, Oppenheimer, tells the story of the race to create an ultimate weapon that would bring an end to the Second World War, and the father of the atomic bomb, Julius Robert Oppenheimer, who made the dream a reality, and saw his fruits of his labour become a nightmare. The movie is based on Kai Bird’s 2005 biography of the physicist, American Prometheus.

Long-time Nolan collaborator Cillian Murphy (the pair worked together on The Dark Knight trilogy, Inception, and Dunkirk) stars in the lead role as Oppenheimer. The big-budget film, Nolan’s first since the mind-bending sci-fi thriller Tenet, will land in cinemas in July 2023.

Cillian Murphy as Robert OppenheimerCillian Murphy as Robert Oppenheimer
Cillian Murphy as Robert Oppenheimer

Who was J. Robert Oppenheimer?

Robert Oppenheimer was born in 1904 and gained a doctorate from the University of Göttingen in the 1920s. During his studies he published several major papers relating to quantum theory. He later studied at Harvard and the California Institute of Technology.

He spent more than a decade working between University of California, Berkeley and California Institute of Technology. America was dragged into the Second World War following Pearl Harbour in December 1941, and in 1942 the Manhattan Project was launched - Oppenheimer was appointed as its director in June of that year.

The Manhattan Project was a covert scientific mission to develop the first useable atomic weapon, with the hopes that it would give the allied powers the edge in the war and establish the United States as a global superpower in the post-war world. Oppenheimer managed a team of more than 3,000 people, and in June 1945 the first successful nuclear explosion was carried out.

Oppenheimer became known as the ‘father of the atomic bomb’ because of his instrumental role in the development of the weapon. Two atomic bombs were dropped on Japan in August 1945 killing somewhere between 130,000 and 250,000 people, most of them civilians. Japan formally surrendered on 2 September 1945, bringing the deadliest war in history to an end.


What did Robert Oppenheimer do after the Manhattan Project?

In the post-war years, Oppenheimer worked as Chairman of the General Advisory Committee to the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) from 1947-52. Having seen the devastation caused by the weapon he helped to create, he was strongly opposed to developing a hydrogen bomb. He used his position to lobby against the use of nuclear energy and nuclear weapons, hoping to avert an arms race with the Soviet Union that he believed could end in armageddon.

During the height of the Cold War and McCarthyism, Oppenheimer was suspected of being a communist sympathiser due to his anti-nuclear proliferation views and he lost his security clearance in 1953, shocking the scientific community. In 1963, as an attempt to reconcile with Oppenheimer, President Lyndon B. Johnson awarded him the prestigious Enrico Fermi Award.

How did Robert Oppenheimer die?

Oppenheimer was known to have smoked up to 100 cigarettes a day - he died from throat cancer in February 1967, aged 62, likely as a result of his smoking.

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