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National Museum of Nuclear Science & History

Leading the Manhattan Project

Grade Level:


Students will use a short documentary on J. Robert Oppenheimer to begin a discussion on Oppenheimer and his role as a leader in the Manhattan Project.



  • Internet access to view the Oppenheimer documentary (coming soon)



Watch the short documentary. Have students analyze the effect that the bomb had on Oppenheimer’s life.  Discuss as a class both sides of how it changed his life and the commitment he made to the project.  In order to ensure that every student talks, make sure that before any student speaks twice, every student speaks once.  

Moderate the discussion and interject with facts or questions to redirect the conversation.  This discussion, however, functions as a Socratic seminar and therefore is student-directed.  Have students consider the following questions in their discussion:

  1. Was Oppenheimer responsible for the creation of the bomb? How integral was his role to the success of the project?
  2. How did the political climate change from before the bomb to after the bomb was dropped?
  3. Should scientists take a backseat when it comes to deciding the policy regarding the use of their creations?
  4. What kind of person was Oppenheimer? How did that affect his work?
  5. Did he feel conflicted about the bomb? What relevancy does his opinion about the atomic bomb hold in historical reflection?
  6. Why do we study Oppenheimer?
  7. What was the nature of the relationship between Oppenheimer and Groves? How did this affect the Manhattan Project?