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Oppenheimer's parting advice
Freeman Dyson Scientist
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[Q] And did you go speak to Oppenheimer when the time came to... what you should be doing in the future?

Yes, I talked with Oppenheimer and he said it was good that I go back to England. He thought that I should spread the word in England. I'd done all this good stuff in America, that I should go back to England and build a school in England and my future should be in England. He was very clear about that. He didn't want me to settle in the States. He wrote me a cryptic note which I was to give to the harbourmaster at Lowestoft in case of necessity, and that was the kind of obscure language he loved to use. I never really figured out what he meant, but I think the basic idea was that... and Niels Bohr in 1940... or whenever it was, I guess it was '43...

[Q] When he left...

...when the Germans - well, of course they had occupied Denmark for several years - but they were going to have a round up of all the Jews, and so he and his Jewish friends took the boat across to Sweden, and I think that was roughly what Oppenheimer had in his mind, that...

[Q] That you could always come back...

... that I could come back to Princeton, if I were in a desperate situation of that sort. But why he chose the harbourmaster at Lowestoft I never could figure out.

Born in England in 1923, Freeman Dyson moved to Cornell University after graduating from Cambridge University with a BA in Mathematics. He subsequently became a professor and worked on nuclear reactors, solid state physics, ferromagnetism, astrophysics and biology. He has published several books and, among other honours, has been awarded the Heineman Prize and the Royal Society's Hughes Medal.

Listeners: Sam Schweber

Silvan Sam Schweber is the Koret Professor of the History of Ideas and Professor of Physics at Brandeis University, and a Faculty Associate in the Department of the History of Science at Harvard University. He is the author of a history of the development of quantum electro mechanics, "QED and the men who made it", and has recently completed a biography of Hans Bethe and the history of nuclear weapons development, "In the Shadow of the Bomb: Oppenheimer, Bethe, and the Moral Responsibility of the Scientist" (Princeton University Press, 2000).

Tags: UK, USA, Lowestoft, 1940, 1943, Denmark, Princeton University, Sweden, England, J Robert Oppenheimer, Niels Bohr

Duration: 1 minute, 48 seconds

Date story recorded: June 1998

Date story went live: 24 January 2008