Friday, June 23, 2017


Freeman Dyson gave an interview recently published in Nautilus. He said this about Robert Oppenheimer:
"Robert Oppenheimer did one really important thing in science, which was the theory of black holes. He really discovered black holes, which turned out to be extremely important. That was done in 1939 with his student [Hartland Snyder]. They developed this theory of why black holes exist, how they are formed, and he got everything right. Essentially, he was the originator of black holes as a concept and it was a prediction that turned out to be true.
The sad thing was that this paper was published on the first of September, 1939—actually the day that Hitler walked into Poland. So the whole world was looking at Poland and not at Oppenheimer. That piece of work somehow got forgotten and Oppenheimer himself lost interest in it and he never went back to it later. It went out of his life and that was a shame. He could have done a lot more with it, so it all had to be redone 20 years later.
He was a big scientist. The strange thing is, the really great thing that he did was not what he wanted to do. He wanted to do particle physics and wasn’t interested in astronomy. Anyway, that’s the way the ball bounces. You never know what you end up being famous for.
He was a very temperamental, unpredictable kind of character. He would suddenly blow hot or cold and you never knew which one you had to deal with. He could be extremely generous and friendly or he could be very harsh.
Leon Cooper was a young kid who came to the Institute at Princeton, and he had this crazy idea that he could understand superconductivity, which was one of the big unsolved problems of that time. Cooper had this idea that superconductivity had something to do with pairs of electrons and Oppenheimer said that was total rubbish. Cooper tried to give a talk about his theory of superconductivity and Oppenheimer would just interrupt all the time and tell him why it was nonsense. He decided Cooper was no good, so Cooper left the Institute and went to Illinois, where he met Bardeen and Schrieffer, and the three of them produced the correct theory of superconductivity, which was in fact Cooper’s idea. They all got the Nobel Prize and Cooper got his revenge."

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