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Interview with Frank Oppenheimer

Oppenheimer, Frank (1985) Interview with Frank Oppenheimer. [Oral History] (Unpublished)

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The younger brother of J. Robert Oppenheimer, Frank Friedman Oppenheimer was born in 1912 in New York City. After graduating as a bachelor of science in physics from Johns Hopkins in 1933, Oppenheimer traveled to Europe where he studied at Cambridge's Cavendish Laboratory and Florence's Istitudo di Arceti from 1933-35. He then entered the California Institute of Technology from where he received his doctoral degree in physics in 1939. Before joining his brother in Los Alamos in 1943, Oppenheimer held positions at Stanford, Berkeley's Radiation Laboratory and the Y-12 Plant in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. Following the War, Oppenheimer returned to Berkeley but then moved to the University of Minnesota where he embarked on studies of cosmic radiation. His research ended abruptly in 1949 after he was required to give testimony to the House Committee on Un-American Activities regarding his communist activities as a graduate student at Caltech. Not until 1961 did he return to university life at the University of Colorado. There he developed a variety of innovative teaching techniques, many of which were later incorporated in his design of the Exploratorium in San Francisco where Oppenheimer served as director. He died in Sausalito, California, in 1985. Conducted at the Exploratorium, this interview focuses on Oppenheimer's years at the California Institute of Technology. Oppenheimer describes his work on beta- and gamma-ray spectroscopy and reminisces about C. C. Lauritsen, his supervisor. He recollects the relationships he formed while working at Caltech's Kellogg Laboratory, including his memories of Willy Fowler, Richard and Ruth Tolman, Hsue-Shen Tsien, Robert Millikan, Henry Borsook, Thomas Hunt Morgan, Fritz Zwicky and Frank Malina. He also discusses his time at Cambridge's Cavendish Laboratory and his recollections of Peter L. Kapitsa, John D. Cockcroft, Ernest T. S. Walton, George Gamow and Ernest Rutherford. In addition to a discussion of Oppenheimer's communist activities in pre-war Pasadena, he recounts his memories of fascism while he was studying in Florence in 1935.

Item Type:Oral History
Record Number:CaltechOH:OH_Oppenheimer_F
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Usage Policy:No commercial reproduction, distribution, display or performance rights in this work are provided.
Subjects:Subjects > Physics
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ID Code:69
Deposited By: Oral Histories Administrator
Deposited On:12 Dec 2003
Last Modified:04 Oct 2019 15:23

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