BERKELEY, Calif. (KRON) – The movie “Oppenheimer” debuts in theaters across the country Friday, but few may know that the man behind the world’s first atomic bomb got his start at U.C. Berkeley. Robert Oppenheimer taught physics there when he was recruited by the government to help with war efforts against Nazi Germany.
Oppenheimer’s bombs were detonated over Japan causing much suffrage, but he was regarded as a hero for our national security during World War II.
Oppenheimer was hired as an assistant professor of physics at U.C. Berkeley in 1929. He was said to have chain-smoked with a cigarette in one hand and a piece of chalk in the other – furiously scribbling equations on a blackboard.
He was quirky, but his contributions to quantum mechanics were explosive. So much so that the U.S. Government tasked Oppenheimer with creating the first atomic bomb in what is known as the Manhattan Project once word got out that Germany was already working on one.
“I think the logic was very compelling that if the U.S. did not put Hitler out of business we might be in a situation that the Germans had a bomb and would be using it in war against the allied powers,” said Karl Van Bibber, a Cal professor in the nuclear engineering department.
A photo included in the video above shows the world’s first test on July 16, 1945, showing the mushroom cloud in New Mexico. The atomic bomb was dropped on Japan in the last days of World War II.
Though he never publicly admitted regret, Oppenheimer is said to have later opposed the continued use and development of nuclear weapons.
“We’ve now created a world where permanently we live under kind of a shadow of fear,” Van Bibber said.
Oppenheimer was later accused of having communist sympathies in 1954, and the government banned him from classified science projects on security grounds. That was lifted just last year.
U.C. Berkeley is hosting a panel discussion on Oppenheimer next Friday in the auditorium at the International House in Berkeley.