The CLIMAX Event was a 61-kiloton device detonated on 4 June 1953, at the Nevada Proving Ground (NPG).
The CLIMAX Event was a 61-kiloton device detonated on 4 June 1953, at the Nevada Proving Ground (NPG).

Oppenheimer: Birth of the Atomic Age with Kai Bird

Photo courtesy of National Nuclear Security Administration / Nevada Site Office, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
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About This Episode

If someone else led the Manhattan Project, would it have gone differently? Neil deGrasse Tyson discusses theoretical physicist J. Robert Oppenheimer, Christopher Nolan’s film, and the creation of the atomic bomb with Pulitzer Prize-winning biographer, Kai Bird.

Were we building the atomic bomb no matter who was in charge? Could a biographer raise the status of a person higher than they were in real life? We discuss the role of Robert Oppenheimer and how he was uniquely equipped to run the Manhattan Project. Learn about the early days of quantum theory in the 1920s and how it impacted Oppenheimer’s trajectory. We dive into details of the movie and what Neil and Kai think about its execution: were there any big inaccuracies?

Why did American Prometheus take so long to become a movie? Find out about the making of Oppenheimer and how it is more than a story about the making of the atomic bomb. We discuss McCarthyism, Hiroshima, as well as Oppenheimer’s motivation for creating the atomic bomb. We also talk about how important it is for more people to learn this story now as more countries develop nuclear weapons.

Did the government understand the power of nuclear weapons at the time? Find out what Oppenheimer thought about nuclear weapons and why he was so concerned about a third World War. Could we someday achieve disarmament? We explore the Communist Party in the 20th century and what it was like at Los Alamos. Plus, how could the Manhattan Project have gone differently without Oppenheimer?

Thanks to our Patrons Jimmy Dunn, Liviu Dimulescu, Keely Stults, Ralph Viator, Daniel Brophy, and Diana Gutman for supporting us this week.

NOTE: StarTalk+ Patrons can listen to this entire episode commercial-free.