Oppenheimer, Frank, 1912-1985

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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])

Archival Resources
Role Title Holding Repository
creatorOf Frank Oppenheimer Papers, 1902-1985 Bancroft Library
creatorOf Oppenheimer, Frank, 1912-1985. Oral history interview with Frank Oppenheimer, 1984 November 16. American Institute of Physics, Niels Bohr Library
creatorOf Frank Oppenheimer papers, 1946-1950, 1958-1959 University of Minnesota Libraries. University of Minnesota Archives. [uarc]
referencedIn Panofsky, Wolfgang Kurt Hermann, 1919-. Oral history interview with Wolfgang Kurt Hermann Panofsky, 1973 May 15 to 1974 June 3. American Institute of Physics, Niels Bohr Library
referencedIn Name File 20.102 Oppenheimer, Frank United States. National Archives and Records Administration
referencedIn Condon, Edward Uhler, 1902-1974. Papers, ca. 1920-1974. American Philosophical Society Library
referencedIn OPPENHEIMER, Frank F. - E2037207 United States. National Archives and Records Administration
referencedIn Martin J. Sherwin Collection Relating to J. Robert Oppenheimer, 1910-2006, (bulk 1931-2006) Library of Congress. Manuscript Division
referencedIn Freier, Phyllis St. Cyr, 1921-1992. Phyllis St. Cyr Freier papers, 1948-1990. University of Minnesota, Minneapolis
referencedIn Lofgren, Edward Joseph, 1914-. Dr. Edward Joseph Lofgren oral history [sound recording] / interviews conducted by Tim Troy, 6th, 13th and 20th May 2006. UC Berkeley Libraries
creatorOf Oppenheimer, Frank, 1912-1985. Speech to Berkeley Democratic Club (1945) and six other talks, 1945-1972. American Institute of Physics, Niels Bohr Library
referencedIn Brobeck, William Morrison, 1908-. Oral history interview with William M. Brobeck, 1975 June 19 to 1 February 1976. American Institute of Physics, Niels Bohr Library
creatorOf Alvarez, Luis W., 1911-1988. Niels Bohr Library : oral history transcripts, 1924-1978. UC Berkeley Libraries
referencedIn 20. Name File: 102. Oppenheimer, Frank United States. National Archives and Records Administration
creatorOf Oppenheimer, Frank, 1912-1985. Frank Oppenheimer papers 1946-1950, 1958-1959. University of Minnesota, Minneapolis
referencedIn Phyllis St. Cyr Freier Papers, 1948-1990. University of Minnesota Libraries. University of Minnesota Archives. [uarc]
creatorOf Exploratorium (Organization). Exploratorium records, 1957-2001. UC Berkeley Libraries
referencedIn Robert R. Wilson papers, 1936-2000. Division of Rare and Manuscript Collections, Cornell University Library.
referencedIn Sherwin, Martin J. Martin J. Sherwin collection relating to J. Robert Oppenheimer, 1910-2006 (bulk 1931-2006). Library of Congress
referencedIn Edward U. Condon Papers, Circa 1920-1974 American Philosophical Society
referencedIn Smith, Herbert W. Oral history interview with Herbert Smith, 1974 August 1. American Institute of Physics, Niels Bohr Library
referencedIn York, Herbert F. (Herbert Frank). Oral history interview with Herbert F. York, 1975 September 9 and 13 May 1976. American Institute of Physics, Niels Bohr Library
referencedIn General Records of the Department of Energy. 1915 - 2007. Photographs Documenting Scientists, Special Events, and Nuclear Research Facilities, Instruments, and Projects at the Berkeley Lab
Role Title Holding Repository
Direct Relationships
Relation Name
associatedWith Alvarez, Luis W., 1911-1988 person
memberOf American physical society corporateBody
founderOf Association of Los Alamos Scientists corporateBody
associatedWith Bateman, Harry, 1882-1946. person
associatedWith Brobeck, William Morrison, 1908- person
alumnusOrAlumnaOf California Institute of Technology. corporateBody
associatedWith Cavendish Laboratory (Cambridge, England) corporateBody
memberOf Communist party of America corporateBody
associatedWith Condon, Edward Uhler, 1902-1974 person
associatedWith Condon, Edward Uhler, 1902-1974. person
associatedWith Epstein, Paul Sophus, 1883-1966. person
founderOf Exploratorium (Organization) corporateBody
associatedWith Fowler, William A. person
associatedWith Freier, Phyllis St. Cyr, 1921-1992 person
associatedWith Freier, Phyllis St. Cyr, 1921-1992. person
associatedWith Goodstein, Judith R. person
alumnusOrAlumnaOf Johns Hopkins University corporateBody
associatedWith Lauritsen, Charles Christian, 1892-1968. person
associatedWith Lofgren, Edward Joseph, 1914- person
employeeOf Los Alamos scientific laboratory corporateBody
sibling of Oppenheimer, J. Robert, 1904-1967. person
associatedWith Panofsky, Wolfgang Kurt Hermann, 1919- person
associatedWith Robert R. Wilson 1914- person
associatedWith Sherwin, Martin J. person
associatedWith Sherwin, Martin J. person
associatedWith Smith, Herbert W. person
associatedWith Tolman, Richard C. (Richard Chace), 1881-1948. person
employeeOf University of California. Radiation Laboratory corporateBody
employeeOf University of Colorado corporateBody
associatedWith University of Minnesota. Dept. of Physics. corporateBody
associatedWith University of Minnesota. Dept. of Physics and Astronomy. corporateBody
associatedWith York, Herbert F. (Herbert Frank) person
Place Name Admin Code Country
Sausalito CA US
New York City NY US
Subject
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
Occupation
Physicists
Function

Person

Birth 1912-08-14

Death 1985-02-03

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