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Summer school at Les Houches


Leave Princeton if Oppenheimer was sacked?
Freeman Dyson Scientist
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During that period I had decided quite clearly that if the Institute would sack Oppenheimer, I would go back to England, and in fact I made enquiries about jobs in England during that time. After the hearings were over, when Oppenheimer's tenure at the Institute was in doubt, I made contacts with Imperial College and I think also with [Rudolf] Peierls in Birmingham about getting a job in England, because it was clear to me that I couldn't stay at the Institute if Oppenheimer was sacked; it would be neither desirable nor honourable, and I would certainly have to resign my job. So I was prepared to do that and I made that known. But, in point of fact, the trustees had their meeting, I think it was not until May or June, and it turned out the trustees decided unanimously to retain Oppenheimer, and they put out a statement saying that Oppenheimer - I forget exactly what they said, but anyway: 'We have every confidence that Oppenheimer will continue to be a leader for the Institute as he has in the past.' So he was reinstated and so there was no question of my having to leave.

Freeman Dyson (1923-2020), who was born in England, 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 published several books and, among other honours, was 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: Oppenheimer security hearing, Institute for Advanced Study, Imperial College, Princeton University, UK, Birmingham, J Robert Oppenheimer, Rudolf Peierls

Duration: 1 minute, 31 seconds

Date story recorded: June 1998

Date story went live: 24 January 2008