Oppenheimer, Frank, 1912-1985

Alternative names
Dates:
Birth 1912-08-14
Death 1985-02-03

Biographical notes:

Physicist. Research associate, University of California at Berkeley, 1941-1947; research associate, 1959-1961 and professor of physics, University of Colorado, Boulder from 1961.

From the description of Speech to Berkeley Democratic Club (1945) and six other talks, 1945-1972. (Unknown). WorldCat record id: 82803789

Frank Oppenheimer, B.S. (1932) Johns Hopkins University, Ph.D. (1938) California Institute of Technology. Associate professor of physics at the University of Minnesota; physicist on the Manhattan project. Investigated by the House Un-American Activities Committee for his communist party ties.

From the description of Frank Oppenheimer papers 1946-1950, 1958-1959. (University of Minnesota, Minneapolis). WorldCat record id: 769419927

Biographical Sketch

Frank Friedman Oppenheimer was born on August 14, 1912 in New York City. After graduation from Johns Hopkins University in 1933, he spent a year and a half at Ernest Rutherford's Cavendish Laboratory in Cambridge researching natural radioactivity. For a period in 1935, he worked on the development of nuclear particle counters at the Institute di Arcetri, Florence, Italy.

In 1936, Oppenheimer married Jaquenette Quann, then a student at Berkeley. After earning his Ph.D. from the California Institute of Technology in 1939, he conducted post-graduate research in neutron physics at Stanford. From 1941-1945, he worked in the University of California Radiation Laboratory on uranium isotope separation with Ernest O. Lawrence. In 1945 Oppenheimer joined the Manhattan Project, the secret government program to develop the atomic bomb, which was directed by his brother J. Robert Oppenehimer. He served first at Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Oak Ridge, Tennessee and later at Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico as deputy to Kenneth Bainbridge, the physicist in charge of testing the atom bomb. After the war, Oppenheimer returned to UC Berkeley where he worked with Luis Alvarez and Wolfgang Panofsky on the development of the proton linear accelerator.

In 1947, Oppenheimer was appointed Assistant Professor at the University of Minnesota where he taught and conducted research on the origin of cosmic rays. In 1949, he and his wife were called before the United States Congress House Committee on Un-American Activities (HUAC) to defend charges that they had been members of the Communist Party. In his appearance before HUAC, Oppenheimer admitted his former involvement with the Party, but refused to name others. He was forced to resign his post at the university. Unable to secure a teaching or research position, and denied a passport by the U.S. government to travel abroad for work, the Oppenheimers moved to Pagosa Springs, Colorado where they started a cattle ranch.

He began teaching science at Pagosa Springs High School in 1957 and two years later was offered a position at the University of Colorado teaching and conducting research in high-energy particle physics. While at the University of Colorado, Oppenheimer began to shift his focus toward developing improvements in science education, which culminated in the award of a grant from the National Science Foundation to develop new methods for teaching introductory physics. He designed a "Library of Experiments," a series of nearly one hundred models of classical laboratory experiments to be used in conjunction with course assignments to teach physical phenomena to students.

Oppenheimer was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1965 to study the history of twentieth-century physics and to conduct bubble chamber research at University College, London. Inspired by his visits to European science museums, he began to develop a plan for creating a similar learning center in the U.S. His goal was to open a museum for the general public that would make learning about science and technology accessible to everyone through hands-on exhibits and demonstrations.

In 1969, these goals were realized with the opening of the Exploratorium at the Palace of Fine Arts in San Francisco, California. This interactive museum of art, science, and human perception was based on Oppenheimer's philosophy that the wonders of science should be fun, accessible, and lead people of all ages to a greater understanding of humanity and to the world around them. He served as director of the museum for the next 16 years and was involved in practically every aspect of the Exploratorium's operation.

Frank Oppenheimer died at his home in Sausalito on February 3, 1985.

Professional Chronology

  • 1912: Born August 14 in New York City.
  • 1930: Graduates from the New York Ethical Culture Society's Fieldston School.
  • 1933: B.A., Johns Hopkins University.
  • 1933 - 1935 : Research Assistant, Cavendish Laboratory, Cambridge.
  • 1935: Research assistant, Institute di Arcetri, Florence, Italy.
  • 1939: Ph.D., California Institute of Technology.
  • 1939 - 1941 : Research Assistant, Stanford University.
  • 1941 - 1947 : Research Associate, Radiation Laboratory, University of California, Berkeley.
  • 1942 - 1945 : Research Associate, Manhattan Project.
  • 1947 - 1949 : Assistant Professor of Physics, University of Minnesota.
  • 1949 - 1959 : Rancher, Pagosa Springs Colorado.
  • 1957 - 1959 : High school science teacher, Pagosa Springs, Colorado.
  • 1959 - 1961 : Physics teacher, Jeffeson County Schools, Colorado.
  • 1959 - 1968 : Associate Professor of Physics.
  • 1965: Guggenheim Fellowship, University College, London.
  • 1968 - 1985 : Founder and director of the Exploratorium, San Francisco.
  • 1972: Receives Distinguished Service Award, American Association of Physics
  • 1973: Receives Robert A. Millikan Award, American Association of Physics
  • 1975: Receives second Guggenheim Fellowship.
  • 1980: Appointed Professor Emeritus, University of Colorado.
  • 1982: Receives Distinguished Service Award, American Association of Museums.
  • 1984: Receives Oersted Medal, American Association of Physics Teachers.
  • 1985: Dies in San Francisco on February 3.

From the guide to the Frank Oppenheimer Papers, 1902-1985, (The Bancroft Library)

Frank Oppenheimer, B.S. (1932) Johns Hopkins University, Ph.D. (1938) California Institute of Technology. Associate professor of physics at the University of Minnesota; physicist on the Manhattan project. Investigated by the House Un-American Activities Committee for his communist party ties.

Frank Oppenheimer was born on August 12, 1912 in New York City. He earned his B.S. in 1932 from Johns Hopkins University and his Ph.D. from the California Institute of Technology in 1938. He was the younger brother of Dr. J. Robert Oppenheimer, chief of the Los Alamos Atomic Bomb laboratory during World War II. After completing his Ph.D., Dr. Frank Oppenheimer worked on nuclear physics projects at Berkeley, Oak Ridge, Tennessee and at the Los Alamos lab on the Manhattan Project.

He began his teaching career at the University of Minnesota on December 16, 1946 as associate professor of physics. In 1947, a Washington Times Herald article claimed that Dr. Oppenheimer was a member of the Communist Party from 1937-1939 (July 12, 1947). When the story first broke, Dr. Oppenheimer denied being a member of the Communist Party, only to retract that statement in 1949. In a report to the House Un-American activities committee, Dr. Oppenheimer stated that he, and his wife, joined the party in 1937 to search for answers to unemployment in America. He left the party in 1940 because the party did not find an adequate solution to unemployment. He claimed that he never participated in any anti-American activities during his three and a half years in the Communist Party. Dr. Oppenheimer resigned his position at the University of Minnesota in 1949.

After leaving Minnesota, he spent 10 years as a cattle rancher in Colorado. In 1957, Dr. Oppenheimer began teaching science at the high school level. In 1969, Dr. Oppenheimer founded the San Francisco science museum Exploratorium, a museum devoted to the areas of science, art, and human perception and the museum as an educational experience. He served as the museum's first director until his death in 1985.

From the guide to the Frank Oppenheimer papers, 1946-1950, 1958-1959, (University of Minnesota Libraries. University of Minnesota Archives [uarc])

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Subjects:

  • Fascism
  • Cancer--Research
  • Radioactive substances--Production control
  • Right and left (Political science)
  • Political science
  • Communism--United States
  • Communism
  • Science--Moral and ethical aspects
  • Beta rays
  • Spectrograph--Design and construction
  • Science--Aesthetics
  • Science museums

Occupations:

  • Physicists

Places:

  • Sausalito, CA, US
  • New York City, NY, US