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National Museum of Nuclear Science & History

Frank Oppenheimer (1912-1985) was an American particle physicist.

In 1941, Oppenheimer began work at the University of California Radiation Laboratory, where he was a group leader in uranium isotope separation under Ernest Lawrence. A few years later, Oppenheimer received an invitation from his brother Robert to conduct research for the Manhattan Project. He went to Oak Ridge to monitor the equipment at the Y-12 plant in 1945, then moved to Los Alamos later that year, where he became executive officer to Kenneth Bainbridge and worked on planning and conducting the Trinity bomb test in July 1945.

As the Cold War intensified, Oppenheimer was called before the House Un-American Activities Committee in 1949. During testimony he admitted that he and his wife Jackie had been members of the Communist Party for several years. The ensuing controversy led to Oppenheimer’s resignation from his post as assistant professor of physics at the University of Minnesota, which he had assumed two years prior. Oppenheimer was unable to find another university-level teaching position for a decade.

During this time, Oppenheimer maintained a cattle ranch with his wife in Colorado and became a science teacher at a local high school. He began to take interest in developing improvements in science education.


Scientific Contributions

In 1965, Frank was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship to do research at University College London. While there, he visited the Science Museum’s Children’s Gallery, and decided to build his own, and better, interactive science museum.  

Soon after his trip to London, Oppenheimer received funding from the  National Science Foundation to develop new pedagogical methods in science education.He revamped the teaching laboratory at the University of Colorado, creating the “library of experiments” – nearly one hundred models of classical laboratory experiments which could be used in aiding the teaching of physics to elementary school children. In 1969, Oppenheimer opened an interactive science museum, the Exploratorium, in San Francisco. Frank served as director at the museum for 16 years. 

Frank Oppenheimer's Timeline
1912 Aug 14th Born in New York City.
1933 Received B.S. in Physics from Johns Hopkins University.
1939 Received Ph.D. in Physics from the Caltech.
19411945 Worked at the University of California Radiation Laboratory on the problem of uranium isotope separation under Ernest Lawrence.
1945 Worked on the Manhattan Project at Los Alamos and Oak Ridge.
1947 Appointed Assistant professor of physics at the University of Minnesota.
1949 Forced to resign from his teaching position after revealing his past affiliation with the Communist Party.
1957 Accepted a teaching position at a high school in Pagosa Springs, Colorado.
1959 Appointed to a teaching position at the University of Colorado.
1965 Awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship to study the history and physics and conduct bubble chamber research at University College, London.
1969 The Exploratorium - an interactive museum of art and science - opened its doors in San Francisco. Oppenheimer served as director for 16 years.
1985 Feb 3rd Died at his home in Sausalito, California.

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