How The Real J. Robert Oppenheimer Became The ‘Father Of The Atomic Bomb’

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Christopher’s Nolan Oppenheimer is based on a true story—and a real person.

The film, which alongside Greta Gerwig’s Barbie, is one most highly-anticipated films of the year sees Cillian Murphy take on the titular character of J. Robert Oppenheimer, the American physicist and father of the atomic bomb. 

The film’s star-studded cast also sees Emily Blunt transform into his wife Katharine “Kitty”, Florence Pugh in the role of his lover, Jean Tatlock, and Matt Damon as the gruff U.S. Army officer Leslie Groves. 

Partially based on Kai Bird and Martin J Sherwin’s Pulitzer-Prize-winning 2005 biography American Prometheus: The Triumph and Tragedy of J Robert Oppenheimer, the film gives us the history lesson we didn’t know we needed. 

Before you watch the film, let’s give you some background on the real J. Robert Oppenheimer. 

cillian murphy oppenheimer
Cillian Murphy as Oppenheimer. (Credit: Universal Pictures)

Who Was The Real J. Robert Oppenheimer? 

Julius Robert Oppenheimer was an American physicist, who became known for being the father of the atomic bomb. The scientist was born into a wealthy German-Jewish family in New York City and attended the prestigious Harvard University as a college student. 

Oppenheimer excelled at academics and even graduated one year early from Harvard. Unfortunately, he also struggled with his mental health and expressed suicidal thoughts while studying there. 

After university, Oppenheimer began working as a professor at the University of California, which lead to his role within what is famously known as Manhattan Project. 

J. Rober Oppenheimer. (Credit: Getty)

What Was J. Robert Oppenheimer Famous For? 

Oppenheimer’s involvement in the Manhattan Program, which was a secret US program that built nuclear weapons, is what he became famous for. While working on the program, Oppenheimer developed an atomic bomb to end World War Two. 

The Manhattan Project began in 1941, just two months before the US entered World War Two. Oppenheimer was recruited for the project one year later, when General Leslie Groves chose the scientist to lead the secret weapons lab. 

Oppenheimer, along with a team of scientists, spent three years creating the atomic bomb in a lab in Los Alamos, New Mexico. On 16 July 1945, the Trinity Test saw the world’s first nuclear detonation occur. One month later, the bombs were dropped on Nagasaki and Hiroshima in Japan, killing 200,000 people and decimating the cities.  

Oppenheimer in the 1950s. (Credit: Getty)

What Happened To J.Robert Oppenheimer? 

After the war, Oppenheimer worked as a nuclear weapons consultant for the US government. During the Cold War, he described the combined nuclear power of the US and the Soviet Union as “two scorpions in a bottle, each capable of killing the other, but only at the risk of his own life”.

In December 1953, the then-Chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission, Lewis Strauss told Oppenheimer that his security clearance had been suspended due to Oppenheimer’s alleged ties to the Communist Party. These ties included Oppenheimer’s mistress, his brother and his sister-in-law, who were all communists. 

Strauss encouraged Oppenheimer to resign but Oppenheimer decided to fight the accusations in court. Unfortunately, he lost his case and was stripped of his title. 

In 1962, President Kennedy gave a formal apology to Oppenheimer for what happened. Oppenheimer died from throat cancer on Feb. 18, 1967.

Who was J. Robert Oppenheimer In Love With? 

While working at Berkley, J. Robert Oppenheimer began dating a woman called Jean Tatlock, who was the daughter of a Berkeley literature professor and a student at Stanford University School of Medicine. She was also a member of the Communist Party. 

The couple broke up in 1939 and Oppenheimer went on to marry a biologist named Kitty, who he had two children with. Despite marrying someone else, Oppenheimer was still in love with Tatlock and the two had an affair while he was married

Kitty Oppenheimer and their children. (Credit: Getty)

Did J. Robert Oppenheimer Really Leave A Poison Apple On His Tutor’s Desk?

When Oppenheimer was a graduate at Cambridge, he reportedly injected his tutor’s apple with chemicals and left it on his desk (before binning it and saving his tutor from death). While we don’t know the specifics of the event, the story was one Oppenheimer told his friends. After it happened,  Oppenheimer was suspended from Cambridge and put on probation. 

Oppenheimer is in Australian cinemas now. 

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