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National Museum of Nuclear Science & History

Oral Histories

Verna Hobson’s Interview – Part 3

Verna Hobson worked as a secretary for J. Robert Oppenheimer at the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton University. Her tenure as his secretary coincided with Oppenheimer’s investigation by the Atomic Energy Commission. In this interview, she shares her interactions with the Oppenheimer family. As Robert Oppenheimer’s personal secretary, she maintained close relationships with him, his wife, and his children. She provides insight into Kitty Oppenheimer’s personality, and how Kitty and Robert interacted with each other and their children, Peter and Toni. She recalls what Peter and Toni were like as children, and how she cared for Peter when Kitty and Robert were abroad. Hobson gives particular insight to her relationship with Kitty Oppenheimer, whose struggles with alcoholism and depression were exacerbated by Robert’s death. She recalls some of the stories that Kitty shared with her during this period, as well as her own personal recollections about Robert’s bout with cancer.

Harold Cherniss’s Interview – Part 1

Harold Cherniss was an American classicist. He initially met J. Robert Oppenheimer at Berkeley in 1929, and they reconnected after the war in Berkeley and later at the Institute for Advanced Study. In this interview, Cherniss reflects on his friendship with Oppenheimer and his experience with others who knew him. Among other subjects, he discusses Oppenheimer’s personality, intellectualism, friendships, and political leanings. He recalls Oppenheimer’s interest in literature, especially French poetry. Cherniss explains how and why Oppenheimer became interested in studying Sanskrit – because Oppie loved a challenge.

Roy Glauber’s Interview

Roy Glauber was just eighteen years old when he was selected to leave his studies at Harvard to join the work of the Los Alamos Laboratory on the Manhattan Project. After the war, he would go on to lead a distinguished academic career, receiving the Nobel Prize in Physics in 2005. In this interview, Glauber discusses his interactions with J. Robert Oppenheimer at Los Alamos and later at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton. He explains why Oppenheimer was so admired by the scientists at Los Alamos and the qualities that made him an excellent director of the Los Alamos laboratory. Glauber also recalls Oppenheimer’s successes and challenges as director of the Institute for Advanced Study, his interactions with other scientists and mathematicians, and how having his security clearance revoked appeared to have broken him.

Verna Hobson’s Interview – Part 2

Verna Hobson worked as a secretary to J. Robert Oppenheimer during his time as director of the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton. Her tenure as secretary coincided with Oppenheimer’s security hearing by the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC). In this interview, she discusses the impact of Oppenheimer’s AEC hearing on his life at the Institute. She expresses frustration with the strategy adopted by his legal team, which she felt was far too lax. Hobson recalls how Oppenheimer navigated the often heated internal politics at the Institute, and his relations with the Institute’s professors and fellows including Albert Einstein, Oswald Veblen, and André Weil. She also gives her account of Oppenheimer’s distinctly poetic writing style.

William A. Fowler’s Interview

William A. “Willie” Fowler was a Nobel Prize-winning physicist at Caltech, who knew J. Robert Oppenheimer from before the war. In this interview, he talks about how Oppenheimer and his “school” of students and post-docs would travel each year from the University of California, Berkeley to Caltech, where Oppenheimer had an appointment on the faculty. He describes how Oppenheimer’s theoretical knowledge and perspective supplemented the experimental research being conducted at Caltech, including Fowler’s own. He also talks about the lives and careers of other physicists who interacted with Oppenheimer in Pasadena, including Charles Lauritsen, Richard Tolman, and Robert Millikan. The interview concludes with a discussion of Fowler’s friendship with Frank and Jackie Oppenheimer.

David Bohm’s Interview

David Bohm was an American theoretical physicist who would later become a citizen of the United Kingdom. After finishing his undergraduate degree at the Pennsylvania State University in 1939, Bohm arrived at the University of California, Berkeley on a seemingly meteoric rise. However, during this same period he became affiliated with the Communist Party, which would ultimately undermine his chances for success in the United States. After being investigated by the House Un-American Activities Committee in 1950, he was forced to continue his study of physics in other countries. In this interview, he discusses his time at Berkeley before and during the war and the left-wing movement at Berkeley. He describes his former mentor J. Robert Oppenheimer as a brilliant mind with occasional charisma that made him a strong administrator.

Marvin Goldberger’s Interview

Marvin Goldberger was President of the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) and a friend of J. Robert Oppenheimer’s from his days at Princeton, after World War II. In this interview, he talks about his and his wife’s relationships with Robert and Kitty Oppenheimer. He also discusses Oppenheimer’s reputation as a physicist and personality, as well as how Oppenheimer fit into the social scene in post-war Princeton. Goldberger recounts how he first met Oppenheimer, and gives his impressions of other Manhattan Project figures including Robert Serber and Edward Teller.

Verna Hobson’s Interview – Part 1

Verna Hobson was an American secretary. She and her husband, the jazz musician Wilder Thornton, moved to Princeton, NJ in the 1950s. From 1954 to 1956, Verna Hobson worked for J. Robert Oppenheimer as a secretary at the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton University. In this interview, she discusses life in Princeton during the mid-’50s, including the social scene and her personal relationships with the Oppenheimer family. She worked for Oppenheimer during his security trial hearing, and explains why she felt the legal strategy was flawed and recalls the strain the Oppenheimer family was put under. She also discusses the personalities of Robert, Kitty, and Peter Oppenheimer, and Robert and Kitty’s relationship.