Wednesday, December 1, 2010

An ugly period in American physics/politics

On the plane from Brisbane to LA I watched some of The Trials of J. Robert Oppenheimer [you can also watch it online] which gave an excellent portrayal (using exact testimony) of the trial and background that led to Oppenheimer losing his security clearance. It also had some excellent background on Oppenheimer's youth and time as a young faculty member at Berkeley. [Mental health issues feature somewhat].
Other physicists who were "tarred and feathered" in the McCarthy era were David Bohm [who was basically fired by Princeton University because he refused to testify] and Frank Oppenheimer [younger brother of J. Robert] who was forced to resign from a faculty position at University of Minnesota. He later founded the Exploratorium in San Francisco.

Last year Physics Today published a fascinating article by J.D. Jackson [of electrodynamics textbook fame], Panosky agonistes: The 1950 loyalty oath at Berkeley, which chronicles more problems from that era.
[Coincidentally, this post is being written in Berkeley!].

Another aside: the photo at the top is of the audience for a colloquium at Los Alamos during the Manhattan project. See who you can recognise.

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