Leslie Groves was born in Albany, New York, on August 17, 1896. He attended the University of Washington for one year and then Massachusetts Institute of Technology for two years before entering West Point, from which he graduated in 1918. He was commissioned in the Engineers and took courses at the Engineer's School, Camp Humphreys (now Fort Belvoir), Virginia, 1918-20 and 1921, with time out for brief service in France during World War I.
In 1931, Groves was attached to the Office of the Chief of Engineers in Washington and was promoted to Captain in October 1934. In 1936, he graduated from the Command and General Staff School, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, and from the Army War College in 1939, after which he was assigned to the General Staff in Washington. He was promoted to Major and Temporary Colonel in July and November 1940 and assigned first to the Office of the Quartermaster General and then to the Office of the Chief of Engineers.
In September 1942, Groves was placed in charge of the Manhattan Engineer Project, with the rank of Temporary Brigadier General, and under his direction, the basic atomic bomb research was carried out, mainly at Columbia University and the University of Chicago. He was in charge of all phases of the project - scientific, production, security and planning for use of the bomb. Under his direction, project plants were established at Oak Ridge, Hanford and the secluded Los Alamos installation in New Mexico.
Groves was promoted to temporary Major General in 1944, and he continued to head the atomic establishment created during wartime until January 1947. He was then named the Chief of the Army's Special Weapons Project. Promoted to Lieutenant General (temporary) in January 1948, he retired a month later. From that time until 1961, he worked as Vice President of Sperry Rand Corporation.
Groves died of heart disease on July 13, 1970, and was buried in Section 2 of Arlington National Cemetery. His wife, Grace Hulbert Wilson Groves, whom he married on February 10, 1922, is buried with him.
Julius Robert Oppenheimer was born in New York City on April 22, 1904. His parents, Julius S. Oppenheimer, a wealthy German textile merchant, and Ella Friedman, an artist, were of Jewish descent but did not observe the religious traditions. He studied at the Ethical Culture Society School, whose physics laboratory has since been named for him, and entered Harvard in 1922, intending to become a chemist, but soon switching to physics. He graduated summa cum laude in 1925 and went to England to conduct research at Cambridge University's Cavendish Laboratory, working under J.J. Thomson.
In 1926, Oppenheimer went to the University of Gttingen to study under Max Born, obtaining his Ph.D. at the age of 22. There, he published many important contributions to the then newly developed quantum theory, most notably a famous paper on the so-called Born-Oppenheimer approximation, which separates nuclear motion from electronic motion in the mathematical treatment of molecules. In 1927, he returned to Harvard to study mathematical physics and as a National Research Council Fellow, and in early 1928, he studied at the California Institute of Technology. He accepted an assistant professorship in physics at the University of California, Berkeley, and maintained a joint appointment with California Institute of Technology. In the ensuing 13 years, he "commuted" between the two universities, and many of his associates and students commuted with him.
Oppenheimer became credited with being a founding father of the American school of theoretical physics. He did important research in astrophysics, nuclear physics, spectroscopy and quantum field theory. He made important contributions to the theory of cosmic ray showers, and did work that eventually led toward descriptions of quantum tunneling. In the 1930s, he was the first to write papers suggesting the existence of what we today call black holes.
In November 1940, Oppenheimer married Katherine Peuning Harrison, a radical Berkeley student, and by May 1941 they had their first child, Peter. When World War II began, Oppenheimer eagerly became involved in the efforts to develop an atomic bomb, which were already taking up much of the time and facilities of Lawrence's Radiation Laboratory at Berkeley. He was invited to take over work on neutron calculations, and in June 1942 General Leslie Groves appointed Oppenheimer as the scientific director of the Manhattan Project.
Under Oppenheimer's guidance, the laboratories at Los Alamos were constructed. There, he brought the best minds in physics to work on the problem of creating an atomic bomb. In the end, he was managing more than 3,000 people, as well as tackling theoretical and mechanical problems that arose. He is often referred to as the "father" of the atomic bomb. (In 1944, the Oppenheimers' second child, Katherine (called Toni), was born at Los Alamos.) The joint work of the scientists at Los Alamos resulted in the first nuclear explosion at Alamagordo on July 16, 1945, which Oppenheimer named "Trinity."
After the war, Oppenheimer was appointed Chairman of the General Advisory Committee to the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC), serving from 1947 to 1952. It was in this role that he voiced strong opposition to the development of the hydrogen bomb. In 1953, at the height of U.S. anticommunist feeling, Oppenheimer was accused of having communist sympathies, and his security clearance was taken away. The scientific community, with few exceptions, was deeply shocked by the decision of the AEC. In 1963, President Lyndon B. Johnson attempted to redress these injustices by honoring Oppenheimer with the Atomic Energy Commission's prestigious Enrico Fermi Award.
From 1947 to 1966, Oppenheimer also served as the Director of Princeton's Institute for Advanced Study. There, he stimulated discussion and research on quantum and relativistic physics. Oppenheimer retired from Princeton in 1966 and died of throat cancer on February 18, 1967.