You also knew Robert Oppenheimer, who came to Princeton shortly after his work at Los Alamos. I’ve heard he was a truly gifted leader, at least while he was running the Manhattan Project, and probably a better administrator than scientist. Was that true?
I don’t know whether that’s true. He 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.
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