Information for Researchers
Scope and Content
Collection Title: Frank Oppenheimer Papers,
Date (inclusive): 1902-1985
Collection Number: BANC MSS 98/136 c
Oppenheimer, Frank, 1912-1985
Number of containers: 4 cartons
Linear feet: 5.0
Berkeley, California 94720-6000
Abstract: Consists of correspondence, writings, along with professional and personal papers reflecting his career in scientific research
and his role as a pioneer in science education. Also included are materials regarding his investigation by the U.S. Congress
House Committee on Un-American Activities, and correspondence, writings and biographical materials about his brother J. Robert
Oppenheimer, theoretical physicist and director of the Manhattan Project, the U.S. government's program to develop the atomic
bomb. The bulk of this collection relates to Frank Oppenheimer's professional and academic research in the fields of education
and physics in the years prior to his founding of the Exploratorium, the highly innovative, hands-on science museum in San
Francisco, Calif., in 1969.
Physical Location: For current information on the location of these materials, please consult the Library's online catalog.
Information for Researchers
Collection is open for research, with the following exception:
- One folder of letters, restricted until April 2032.
Copyright has not been assigned to The Bancroft Library. All requests for permission to publish or quote from manuscripts
must be submitted in writing to the Head of Public Services. Permission for publication is given on behalf of The Bancroft
Library as the owner of the physical items and is not intended to include or imply permission of the copyright holder, which
must also be obtained by the reader.
[Identification of item], Frank Oppenheimer papers, BANC MSS 98/136 c, The Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley.
Title: Exploratorium Records, 1957-[on-going],
Identifier/Call Number: BANC MSS 87/148 c
The Frank Oppenheimer Papers were given to The Bancroft Library by Michael and Judith Oppenheimer on December 12, 1997.
Funding partially provided by a grant from the American Institute of Physics.
Frank Friedman Oppenheimer was born on August 14, 1912 in New York City. After graduation from Johns Hopkins University in
1933, he spent a year and a half at Ernest Rutherford's Cavendish Laboratory in Cambridge researching natural radioactivity.
For a period in 1935, he worked on the development of nuclear particle counters at the Institute di Arcetri, Florence, Italy.
In 1936, Oppenheimer married Jaquenette Quann, then a student at Berkeley. After earning his Ph.D. from the California Institute
of Technology in 1939, he conducted post-graduate research in neutron physics at Stanford. From 1941-1945, he worked in the
University of California Radiation Laboratory on uranium isotope separation with Ernest O. Lawrence. In 1945 Oppenheimer joined
the Manhattan Project, the secret government program to develop the atomic bomb, which was directed by his brother J. Robert
Oppenehimer. He served first at Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Oak Ridge, Tennessee and later at Los Alamos National Laboratory
in New Mexico as deputy to Kenneth Bainbridge, the physicist in charge of testing the atom bomb. After the war, Oppenheimer
returned to UC Berkeley where he worked with Luis Alvarez and Wolfgang Panofsky on the development of the proton linear accelerator.
In 1947, Oppenheimer was appointed Assistant Professor at the University of Minnesota where he taught and conducted research
on the origin of cosmic rays. In 1949, he and his wife were called before the United States Congress House Committee on Un-American
Activities (HUAC) to defend charges that they had been members of the Communist Party. In his appearance before HUAC, Oppenheimer
admitted his former involvement with the Party, but refused to name others. He was forced to resign his post at the university.
Unable to secure a teaching or research position, and denied a passport by the U.S. government to travel abroad for work,
the Oppenheimers moved to Pagosa Springs, Colorado where they started a cattle ranch.
He began teaching science at Pagosa Springs High School in 1957 and two years later was offered a position at the University
of Colorado teaching and conducting research in high-energy particle physics. While at the University of Colorado, Oppenheimer
began to shift his focus toward developing improvements in science education, which culminated in the award of a grant from
the National Science Foundation to develop new methods for teaching introductory physics. He designed a "Library of Experiments,"
a series of nearly one hundred models of classical laboratory experiments to be used in conjunction with course assignments
to teach physical phenomena to students.
Oppenheimer was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1965 to study the history of twentieth-century physics and to conduct bubble
chamber research at University College, London. Inspired by his visits to European science museums, he began to develop a
plan for creating a similar learning center in the U.S. His goal was to open a museum for the general public that would make
learning about science and technology accessible to everyone through hands-on exhibits and demonstrations.
In 1969, these goals were realized with the opening of the Exploratorium at the Palace of Fine Arts in San Francisco, California.
This interactive museum of art, science, and human perception was based on Oppenheimer's philosophy that the wonders of science
should be fun, accessible, and lead people of all ages to a greater understanding of humanity and to the world around them.
He served as director of the museum for the next 16 years and was involved in practically every aspect of the Exploratorium's
Frank Oppenheimer died at his home in Sausalito on February 3, 1985.
||Born August 14 in New York City.
||Graduates from the New York Ethical Culture Society's Fieldston School.
||B.A., Johns Hopkins University.
||Research Assistant, Cavendish Laboratory, Cambridge.
||Research assistant, Institute di Arcetri, Florence, Italy.
||Ph.D., California Institute of Technology.
||Research Assistant, Stanford University.
||Research Associate, Radiation Laboratory, University of California, Berkeley.
||Research Associate, Manhattan Project.
||Assistant Professor of Physics, University of Minnesota.
||Rancher, Pagosa Springs Colorado.
||High school science teacher, Pagosa Springs, Colorado.
||Physics teacher, Jeffeson County Schools, Colorado.
||Associate Professor of Physics.
||Guggenheim Fellowship, University College, London.
||Founder and director of the Exploratorium, San Francisco.
||Receives Distinguished Service Award, American Association of Physics
||Receives Robert A. Millikan Award, American Association of Physics
||Receives second Guggenheim Fellowship.
||Appointed Professor Emeritus, University of Colorado.
||Receives Distinguished Service Award, American Association of Museums.
||Receives Oersted Medal, American Association of Physics Teachers.
||Dies in San Francisco on February 3.
Scope and Content
The Frank Oppenheimer Papers, 1902-1985, consist of correspondence, writings, professional and personal papers reflecting
Oppenheimer's career in scientific research and his role as a pioneer in science education. Also included are materials regarding
Oppenheimer's investigation by the United States Congress House Committee on Un-American Activities (HUAC), and correspondence,
writings, and biographical materials about his brother J. Robert Oppenheimer, theoretical physicist and director of the Manhattan
Project, the United States government's program to develop the atomic bomb. The bulk of this collection relates to Frank Oppenheimer's
professional and academic research in the fields of education and physics in the years prior to his founding of the Exploratorium,
the highly innovative, hands-on science museum in San Francisco, California, in 1969.
Oppenheimer's correspondence consists primarily of personal letters, but also includes letters to and from many leaders in
the field of physics such as Hans Bethe, Sebastien Littauer, and Erwin Marquit. Subsequent to his investigation by HUAC, Oppenheimer
was forced to resign his professorship at the University of Minnesota. Many of his colleagues in the U.S. and abroad worked
dilligently to convince their own institutions to offer him a position. Letters from Bethe and others indicating these attempts
are included in this series.
Among writings included in this collection are drafts of articles and speeches reflecting Oppenheimer's research in atomic
physics and his involvement, following the war, in efforts to promote the international control of atomic weapons. Also included
are drafts for an unpublished manuscript, written with K.C. Cole, entitled
The Sentimental Fruits of Science, a series of essays written over the course of his career on a broad range of topics including the arts, science, technology,
social justice, and education.
In the years leading up to the development of the Exploratorium, Oppenheimer earned a reputation as an innovator in science
education. At the University of Colorado, he and his colleague Malcolm Correll designed the Library of Experiments, a set
of permanent laboratory exhibits to aid in the teaching of introductory physics.
Oppenheimer's family papers consist of correspondence, including letters from his brother Robert written between 1925 and
1962. Other materials relating to his brother include correspondence with biographers, writings, clippings, and transcripts
for an interview conducted with Frank Oppenheimer for the film
The Day After Trinity.
In 1949 Oppenheimer and his wife, Jacquenette, were called to testify before the House Un-American Activities Committee. While
admitting to their own previous memberships in the Communist Party, the Oppenheimers refused to implicate others during their
testimony. Papers relating to this period include correspondence, subpoenas and transcripts of the hearings. Of particular
interest are drafts for Oppenheimer's statements to the committee and an essay by Oppenheimer entitled "The Tail that Wags
the Dog" about the Oppenheimer's continued harassment by the Federal Bureau of Investigation after the hearings.
Oppenheimer's papers do not include many records related to the Exploratorium. These materials can be found in the Exploratorium
Records, BANC MSS 87/148 c.