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Guide to the Frank Oppenheimer Papers, 1902-1985
BANC MSS 98/136 c  
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Collection Details
 
Table of contents What's This?
  • Collection Summary
  • Information for Researchers
  • Administrative Information
  • Biographical Sketch
  • Professional Chronology
  • Scope and Content

  • Collection Summary

    Collection Title: Frank Oppenheimer Papers,
    Date (inclusive): 1902-1985
    Collection Number: BANC MSS 98/136 c
    Creator: Oppenheimer, Frank, 1912-1985
    Extent: Number of containers: 4 cartons Linear feet: 5.0
    Repository: The Bancroft Library
    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.
    Languages Represented: English

    Information for Researchers

    Access

    Collection is open for research, with the following exception:
    • One folder of letters, restricted until April 2032.

    Publication Rights

    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.

    Preferred Citation

    [Identification of item], Frank Oppenheimer papers, BANC MSS 98/136 c, The Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley.

    Related Collections

    Title: Exploratorium Records, 1957-[on-going],
    Identifier/Call Number: BANC MSS 87/148 c

    Administrative Information

    Acquisition Information

    The Frank Oppenheimer Papers were given to The Bancroft Library by Michael and Judith Oppenheimer on December 12, 1997.

    Funding

    Funding partially provided by a grant from the American Institute of Physics.

    Biographical Sketch

    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 operation.
    Frank Oppenheimer died at his home in Sausalito on February 3, 1985.

    Professional Chronology

    1912 Born August 14 in New York City.
    1930 Graduates from the New York Ethical Culture Society's Fieldston School.
    1933 B.A., Johns Hopkins University.
    1933-1935 Research Assistant, Cavendish Laboratory, Cambridge.
    1935 Research assistant, Institute di Arcetri, Florence, Italy.
    1939 Ph.D., California Institute of Technology.
    1939-1941 Research Assistant, Stanford University.
    1941-1947 Research Associate, Radiation Laboratory, University of California, Berkeley.
    1942-1945 Research Associate, Manhattan Project.
    1947-1949 Assistant Professor of Physics, University of Minnesota.
    1949-1959 Rancher, Pagosa Springs Colorado.
    1957-1959 High school science teacher, Pagosa Springs, Colorado.
    1959-1961 Physics teacher, Jeffeson County Schools, Colorado.
    1959-1968 Associate Professor of Physics.
    1965 Guggenheim Fellowship, University College, London.
    1968-1985 Founder and director of the Exploratorium, San Francisco.
    1972 Receives Distinguished Service Award, American Association of Physics
    1973 Receives Robert A. Millikan Award, American Association of Physics
    1975 Receives second Guggenheim Fellowship.
    1980 Appointed Professor Emeritus, University of Colorado.
    1982 Receives Distinguished Service Award, American Association of Museums.
    1984 Receives Oersted Medal, American Association of Physics Teachers.
    1985 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.