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October 2, 2023

When Robert Oppenheimer Met Albert Einstein

Oppenheimer, directed by Christopher Nolan, features a stellar cast and focuses on J. Robert Oppenheimer’s role in the Manhattan Project and his opposition to the hydrogen bomb’s development. Renowned physicist Albert Einstein plays an important but brief role in the film, highlighting the long-term implications of his interaction with Oppenheimer regarding the atomic bomb’s development. The movie does not depict how Einstein and Oppenheimer first met, as it primarily aims to explore Oppenheimer’s narrative during and after the Manhattan Project, and the details of their first encounter were not relevant to the overarching storyline.

Oppenheimer first met Einstein in January 1932 when Einstein visited Cal Tech during his around the world trip of 1931–1932. In January 1935, Oppenheimer went east to attend a meeting of the American Physical Society. While in New York he took the opportunity to go to Princeton to visit the Institute for Advanced Study to which he had been invited to spend a year as a visiting member. He conveyed his reaction to the occupants of Fine Hall—the building where both the mathematics department of Princeton University and, until 1938, the Institute for Advanced Study were located—in.

Even after World War II, the two physicists were coworkers at Princeton’s Institute for Advanced Study. While Oppenheimer was the institute’s director from 1947, Einstein was among the first few faculties to have worked there. Recounting his relationship with Einstein in a 1966 article “On Albert Einstein,” Oppenheimer also mentioned that he and Einstein were good friends before Einstein passed away in 1955.

“Though I knew Einstein for two or three decades, it was only in the last decade of his life that we were close colleagues and something of friends.”


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