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Robert Oppenheimer

Date de naissance: 22. avril 1904
Date de décès: 18. février 1967
Autres noms:Julius Robert Oppenheimer

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Julius Robert Oppenheimer est un physicien américain qui s'est distingué en physique théorique puis comme directeur scientifique du Projet Manhattan. À cause de son rôle éminent, il est régulièrement surnommé le « père de la bombe atomique ».

Élevé dans une famille fortunée, intellectuelle et libérale, il maîtrise l'allemand, l'anglais et le français au point qu'il peut lire les ouvrages des plus grands chimistes, mathématiciens et physiciens de l'époque dans leur langue maternelle. Profitant des enseignements des meilleurs physiciens européens, il publie des articles importants en mécanique quantique, en physique des particules et en physique nucléaire. Il est également reconnu par la communauté scientifique pour la publication d'une thèse concernant la naissance des trous noirs dans l'Univers. Pendant les années 1930, ses travaux théoriques et son prestige font de l'université de Californie à Berkeley l'un des plus importants centres de recherche en physique.

En février 1943, malgré l'opposition des services de sécurité de l'armée américaine due au passé gauchiste d'Oppenheimer, le général Leslie Richard Groves le nomme directeur scientifique du Projet Manhattan. Sous sa direction efficace, le Laboratoire national de Los Alamos met au point les trois premières bombes atomiques de l'Histoire. Même s'il juge que les États-Unis auraient dû transmettre plus d'avertissements au Japon avant de bombarder Hiroshima et Nagasaki, il reste partisan de l'usage des bombes atomiques. Après la Seconde Guerre mondiale, il est nommé président du General Advisory Committee qui conseille la Commission de l'énergie atomique des États-Unis.

En 1953, pendant le maccarthysme, Oppenheimer voit son habilitation de sécurité révoquée en raison de son opposition au développement des armes thermonucléaires. En 1963, il est réhabilité politiquement lorsque le gouvernement des États-Unis lui décerne le prix Enrico-Fermi. Il termine sa carrière à l’Institute for Advanced Study qui devient, sous sa direction, un centre de recherche fondamentale de premier plan.

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Citations Robert Oppenheimer

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„The Optimist thinks this is the best of all possible worlds, the Pessimist fears it is true.“

— Robert Oppenheimer
This is derived from a statement of James Branch Cabell, in The Silver Stallion (1926) : The optimist proclaims that we live in the best of all possible worlds; and the pessimist fears this is true.

„If atomic bombs are to be added as new weapons to the arsenals of a warring world, or to the arsenals of the nations preparing for war, then the time will come when mankind will curse the names of Los Alamos and Hiroshima. The people of this world must unite or they will perish.“

— Robert Oppenheimer
Context: It is with appreciation and gratefulness that I accept from you this scroll for the Los Alamos Laboratory, and for the men and women whose work and whose hearts have made it. It is our hope that in years to come we may look at the scroll and all that it signifies, with pride. Today that pride must be tempered by a profound concern. If atomic bombs are to be added as new weapons to the arsenals of a warring world, or to the arsenals of the nations preparing for war, then the time will come when mankind will curse the names of Los Alamos and Hiroshima. The people of this world must unite or they will perish. This war that has ravaged so much of the earth, has written these words. The atomic bomb has spelled them out for all men to understand. Other men have spoken them in other times, and of other wars, of other weapons. They have not prevailed. There are some misled by a false sense of human history, who hold that they will not prevail today. It is not for us to believe that. By our minds we are committed, committed to a world united, before the common peril, in law and in humanity. Acceptance Speech, Army-Navy "Excellence" Award (16 November 1945)

„There must be no barriers to freedom of inquiry … There is no place for dogma in science. The scientist is free, and must be free to ask any question, to doubt any assertion, to seek for any evidence, to correct any errors.“

— Robert Oppenheimer
Context: There must be no barriers to freedom of inquiry … There is no place for dogma in science. The scientist is free, and must be free to ask any question, to doubt any assertion, to seek for any evidence, to correct any errors. Our political life is also predicated on openness. We know that the only way to avoid error is to detect it and that the only way to detect it is to be free to inquire. And we know that as long as men are free to ask what they must, free to say what they think, free to think what they will, freedom can never be lost, and science can never regress. As quoted in "J. Robert Oppenheimer" by L. Barnett, in Life, Vol. 7, No. 9, International Edition (24 October 1949), p. 58; sometimes a partial version (the final sentence) is misattributed to Marcel Proust.

„We do not believe any group of men adequate enough or wise enough to operate without scrutiny or without criticism.“

— Robert Oppenheimer
Context: We do not believe any group of men adequate enough or wise enough to operate without scrutiny or without criticism. We know that the only way to avoid error is to detect it, that the only way to detect it is to be free to enquire. We know that the wages of secrecy are corruption. We know that in secrecy error, undetected, will flourish and subvert. "Encouragement of Science" (Address at Science Talent Institute, 6 Mar 1950), Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, v.7, #1 (Jan 1951) p. 6-8

„To try to be happy is to try to build a machine with no other specification than that it shall run noiselessly.“

— Robert Oppenheimer
Context: Everyone wants rather to be pleasing to women and that desire is not altogether, though it is very largely, a manifestation of vanity. But one cannot aim to be pleasing to women any more than one can aim to have taste, or beauty of expression, or happiness; for these things are not specific aims which one may learn to attain; they are descriptions of the adequacy of one's living. To try to be happy is to try to build a machine with no other specification than that it shall run noiselessly. Letter to his brother Frank (14 October 1929), published in Robert Oppenheimer : Letters and Recollections (1995) edited by Alice Kimball Smith, p. 136

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„In some sort of crude sense which no vulgarity, no humor, no overstatement can quite extinguish, the physicists have known sin; and this is a knowledge which they cannot lose.“

— Robert Oppenheimer
Context: Despite the vision and farseeing wisdom of our wartime heads of state, the physicists have felt the peculiarly intimate responsibility for suggesting, for supporting, and in the end, in large measure, for achieving the realization of atomic weapons. Nor can we forget that these weapons, as they were in fact used, dramatized so mercilessly the inhumanity and evil of modern war. In some sort of crude sense which no vulgarity, no humor, no overstatement can quite extinguish, the physicists have known sin; and this is a knowledge which they cannot lose. Physics in the Contemporary World, Arthur D. Little Memorial Lecture at M.I.T. (25 November 1947)

„I believe that through discipline, though not through discipline alone, we can achieve serenity, and a certain small but precious measure of the freedom from the accidents of incarnation, and charity, and that detachment which preserves the world which it renounces.“

— Robert Oppenheimer
Context: I believe that through discipline, though not through discipline alone, we can achieve serenity, and a certain small but precious measure of the freedom from the accidents of incarnation, and charity, and that detachment which preserves the world which it renounces. I believe that through discipline we can learn to preserve what is essential to our happiness in more and more adverse circumstances, and to abandon with simplicity what would else have seemed to us indispensable; that we come a little to see the world without the gross distortion of personal desire, and in seeing it so, accept more easily our earthly privation and its earthly horror — But because I believe that the reward of discipline is greater than its immediate objective, I would not have you think that discipline without objective is possible: in its nature discipline involves the subjection of the soul to some perhaps minor end; and that end must be real, if the discipline is not to be factitious. Therefore I think that all things which evoke discipline: study, and our duties to men and to the commonwealth, war, and personal hardship, and even the need for subsistence, ought to be greeted by us with profound gratitude, for only through them can we attain to the least detachment; and only so can we know peace. Letter to his brother Frank (12 March 1932), published in Robert Oppenheimer : Letters and Recollections (1995) edited by Alice Kimball Smith, p. 155

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„We knew the world would not be the same. A few people laughed, a few people cried, most people were silent. I remembered the line from the Hindu scripture, the Bhagavad-Gita; Vishnu is trying to persuade the Prince that he should do his duty and, to impress him, takes on his multi-armed form and says, "Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds." I suppose we all thought that, one way or another.“

— Robert Oppenheimer
Interview about the Trinity explosion, first broadcast as part of the television documentary The Decision to Drop the Bomb (1965), produced by Fred Freed, NBC White Paper; the translation is his own. online video at atomicarchive.com http://www.atomicarchive.com/Movies/Movie8.shtml

„Science is not everything, but science is very beautiful.“

— Robert Oppenheimer
Last published words With Oppenheimer on an Autumn Day, Look, Vol. 30, No. 26 (19 December 1966)

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