On 16th July 1945, as American scientist J Robert Oppenheimer witnessed the first detonation of a nuclear weapon, a piece of Hindu scripture famously ran through his mind: "Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds."


Now a Christopher Nolan-led film telling Oppenheimer's life story and his involvement with the Manhattan Project during the Second World War has landed on the big screen.

Oppenheimer also explores the titular scientist's legacy, which was marred by a 1954 hearing that investigated his supposed Communist sympathies and led to his security clearance being revoked.

Peaky Blinders star Cillian Murphy leads the cast in the titular role, while Robert Downey Jr appears as Lewis Strauss and Florence Pugh as Jean Tatlock, among many more big names.

But what happened to the real Oppenheimer and what's the true story behind the movie? Read on for everything you need to know.

Is Oppenheimer based on a true story?

The new biopic by director Christopher Nolan tells the life story of the scientist J Robert Oppenheimer and his involvement in the world-altering Manhattan Project - which led to the creation of the atomic bomb.

Who was the real J Robert Oppenheimer?

J. Robert Oppenheimer learning from Albert Einstein
Oppenheimer learning from Einstein. CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images

The real Oppenheimer was born Julius Robert Oppenheimer in New York City in 1904 to German immigrant and wealthy textile importer Julius Oppenheimer and painter Ella Friedman Oppenheimer.

Today, he is considered “the father of the atomic bomb”.

Oppenheimer studied chemistry at Harvard University, before going on to study theoretical physics at both Cambridge University and the University of Göttingen in Germany, where he secured his doctorate at age 23.

He then returned to the United States to teach physics at the University of California at Berkeley and the California Institute of Technology, where he conducted research on black holes and neutron stars.

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He worked alongside some of the greatest scientific figures of his age, including experimental physicist and Nobel Prize winner Ernest Lawrence, who also appears in the film (played by Josh Hartnett).

What was the Manhattan Project?

Oppenheimer Universal Pictures

In 1941, Oppenheimer was asked to participate in the top secret Manhattan Project, which had been greenlit with the aim of developing an atomic weapon.

The following year, Oppenheimer was hired by General Leslie Groves Jr – the director of the Manhattan Project – to head up the secret lab where the bomb would be tested and lead the research team.

In 1943, the Los Alamos Ranch School in New Mexico, a private boys’ school near Santa Fe, was selected as the location for the lab, which soon became known as the Los Alamos Laboratory.

On 16th July 1945, Oppenheimer and others assembled at the Trinity test site south of Los Alamos to conduct a test involving the successful detonation of a plutonium device which they’d nicknamed “Gadget”.

The bomb design and test conditions led to the creation of the atomic bombs Little Boy and Fat Boy that were dropped over Japan’s Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945.

What happened to Oppenheimer after he made the bomb?

Oppenheimer's legacy was marred by a 1954 hearing that investigated his political leanings and led to his security clearance being rescinded.

However, as we see in the movie, Oppenheimer received a presidential award from the president years later.

He was 62 years old when he died.

He passed away on 18th February 1967, in his home in Princeton, New Jersey, following a battle with throat cancer.

The scientist was diagnosed with the disease in 1965 and underwent unsuccessful radiation treatment, chemotherapy and surgery in 1966.


Oppenheimer is in UK cinemas now. Check out more of our Film coverage or visit our TV Guide and Streaming Guide to find out what's on tonight.
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