Sunday, February 27, 2005

UT physicist and Nobel laureate Steven Weinberg reviews a new biography of J. Robert Oppenheimer, Oppenheimer: Portrait of an Enigma, by Jeremy Bernstein. No physicist today has the fame that Oppenheimer did in the twenty years after World War II.
I remember in 1962 my wife and I were sitting in a café in Geneva during a break at the “Rochester” High-Energy Physics Conference, then in town. Looking at the other café patrons, we decided that they must be diplomats—they spoke languages we couldn’t identify, and they were much too well dressed to be physicists. For a moment I felt that although I loved physics, in choosing a career in research, I had given up the glamour of the great world of national and international affairs. Then Oppenheimer came in. He stopped at our table and chatted with me for a few minutes about some of the talks at the conference. After he walked away, one of the diplomats, wearing a gorgeous tarboosh and fez, came over and said, “Pahdon me, sah, but was that Doctah Oppenheimah?” My self-pity passed: I didn’t have a diplomatic passport, but at least I knew Oppenheimer.

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