Let's Be Frank

For the last 100 days, the Exploratorium has posted pictures and quotes by particle physicist Frank Oppenheimer. Oppenheimer wasn’t routinely pithy, but his curiosity, wonder, and brilliance shine through, as does his compassion for the human experience. In K.C. Cole’s biography, Oppenheimer is described as “Tom Sawyer in a business suit.” And visiting the Exploratorium, NOVApointed out, is like being inside his brain. As we approach Frank Oppenheimer’s 100th Birthday Anniversary, we might recall that Oppenheimer once followed his more famous older brother J. Robert into the Manhattan Project where they developed the A-bomb. Both were blacklisted, perhaps as much for outspoken dismay as for their membership in the Communist Party but, unlike J. Robert, whose spirit was crushed along with his career, Frank came into his own during the Red Scare. He taught high school while in exile on a Colorado ranch. He was a very good teacher. By the time he got a university post, he had developed a “library of experiments” that encouraged students to physically follow the threads of their own curiosity. Today, you can recreate some of those threads -- the giant bubble tray may be a biproduct of Oppenheimer’s Guggenheim Fellowship for bubble-chamber dynamics -- watch his favorite movies, and see footage of the man during the birth of the “museum of human awareness.”
Sat., Aug. 18, 10 a.m., 2012

 
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