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National Museum of Nuclear Science & History

Professor Oppenheimer

In 1928, J. Robert Oppenheimer accepted a position as an associate professor of physics at the University of California, Berkeley. He was still serving in this position when the article below appeared in the Berkeley Gazette on February 14, 1934. Several other newspapers also carried the story of J. Robert Oppenheimer, the absentminded professor, during his time at Berkeley before he signed on to the Manhattan Project.

Document Type:
J. Robert Oppenheimer

Prof Takes Girl for Ride; Walks Home

J. Robert Oppenheimer, 30, associate professor of physics at the University of California, took Miss Melva [sic] Phillips, research assistant in physics living at 2730 Webster Street, for an automobile ride in the Berkeley Hills at 3 o’clock this morning.

He stopped his machine on Spruce Street at Alta Street and tucked a large robe about his passenger.

“Are you comfortable?” Prof. Oppenheimer asked.

Miss Phillips replied that she was.

“Mind if I get out and walk for a few minutes?” he queried.

Miss Phillips didn’t mind, so the professor climbed from the auto and started to walk.

One hour and 45 minutes later Patrolman C. T. Nevins found the professor’s car and Miss Phillips, still comfortable, dozing in the front seat. He woke her and asked for an explanation of her early morning nap.

Miss Phillips told her story. Police headquarters was notified that Prof. Oppenheimer was missing and a search was launched.

A short time later the professor was awakened from a sound sleep in his room at the Faculty Club, two miles distant from his auto, and asked to explain.

“I am eccentric,” he said.

More Historical Resources:

J. Robert Oppenheimer and Gregory Breit.

J. Robert Oppenheimer (left) and Ernest O. Lawrence

Neumann and Oppenheimer.