In the Matter of J Robert Oppenheimer

Up Resources


  1. Review and discuss the political, historical, and social climate that lead to the Manhattan Project.

  2. Describe the parallel efforts toward the development of the Bomb in Nazi Germany and the U.S.S.R.

  3. Introduce the personal biographies of J. Robert Oppenheimer, Edward Teller, Andrei Sakharov and others who influenced the bomb development efforts.

  4. Review the history of Manhattan Project.

  5. Present the ethical dilemma facing scientists working in Los Alamos.

  6. Review and discuss the Oppenheimer-Teller confrontation during the 1953 security hearings.


  1. Background lecture in class and an assignment of readings to the students (see RESOURCES).

  2. Reading and discussion of "In the Matter of J. Robert Oppenheimer" by Heinar Kipphardt.

  3. Viewing and listening to video and audio tapes highlighting the studied topics (see RESOURCES).


  1. Atomic Bomb and Hydrogen Bomb introductory lecture (2 hours).

  2. Discussion of "In the Matter of J. Robert Oppenheimer" by Heinar Kipphardt (2 hours).

  3. Listening to Interview with Edward Teller (Audio Tapes).

  4. Video presentation of "J. Robert Oppenheimer - Father of the Atomic Bomb" (2 hours).


An Example

Select one of the following topics, and discuss it using

bulletfacts about the "Oppenheimer affair" taken from Kipphardt's book and other sources (mandatory); and
bullettheories from chapter 6 of Harris et al - `Engineering Ethics'.

State your own opinion about the matter in your paper. Aim at a 450-650 word assay.

  1. In the Kipphardt's play, Oppenheimer expresses several times a desire that the development of some technologies be halted, slowed down or heavily controlled by society.
    bulletIs this desirable,
    bulletis this possible,
    bulletwhat are the ramifications of your answers to 1.a/b on the role that engineers and scientist play (or should play ) in changing the course of history of technology (and history in general.)

  2. Teller was quoted [Burns and Grant "the Atomic Papers" Scarecrow Press 1984, p. 191] to say the following: "The accident that we worked out this dreadful thing should not give us scientists the responsibility of having a voice in how it is to be used" Confront this view with that of Oppenheimer on the same topic - and express your own opinion.

  3. The Oppenheimer hearings reveal a serious conflict between Oppenheimer's personal ideologies and beliefs and those of other members of the US Government administration. Is it legitimate to require that only people whose ideological views coincide with those of the mainstream US government work on security-related projects? Should Oppenheimer's political beliefs and ideology have been investigated before he was asked to head the Los Alamos effort? How much dissent is "permissible"?

  4. Loyalty to friends and colleagues and the stringent requirements of security seem to be in conflict on several instances during the affair (Jean Tatlock - Oppenheimer; Chevalier - Oppenheimer; Teller - Oppenheimer). What are the guidelines that a scientist/engineer should follow under such circumstances? How much should a scientist/engineer be required to reveal of his/her private life in exchange for a security clearance?

  5. Do you agree with the course of investigation, the conclusions and the actions that were taken by the committee that investigated the Oppenheinmer affair? Was the committee fair? Were its final decisions fair?