Pulitzer prize-winning authors to discuss "Father of Atomic Bomb"

By Vanessa deGier

Renowned historians Kai Bird and Martin J. Sherwin will discuss the scientific achievements and personal story of physicist J. Robert Oppenheimer at a special UCSF lecture on Friday, November 3.  The event is free and open to the public. 

The presentation will be the 11th annual Maurice Galante Lecture, sponsored by the UCSF Department of Surgery.  It is set for 3:00 p.m. in Cole Hall, 513 Parnassus Avenue, on the UCSF Campus.

During the lecture, titled “Oppenheimer’s Shadow: His Nuclear World and Ours,” Bird and Sherwin will discuss Oppenheimer’s view of nuclear weapons, his many scientific achievements, and his professional and personal hardships.  Their talk will be based on their recent biography of Oppenheimer, “American Prometheus: The Triumph and Tragedy of J. Robert Oppenheimer,” for which they received the 2006 Pulitzer Prize. 

Often called “the father of the atomic bomb,” Oppenheimer is best known for his role as director of scientific research for the Manhattan Project.  However, after the catastrophic loss of civilian life caused when atom bombs were dropped on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki during World War II, he realized the devastating effects of the bombs.  As chief advisor to the Atomic Energy Commission, Oppenheimer fought against the arms race and for strict controls on atomic materials.  His outspoken opposition to the development of the nuclear bomb resulted in an investigation into his life and alleged Communist ties. 

The authors will also recount Oppenheimer’s ties to the Bay Area.  Oppenheimer taught physics at UC Berkeley and was credited with being a founding father of the American school of theoretical physics there.  He is also known to have had a relationship with Dr. Jean Tatlock, who attended Stanford and worked as a physician at what was then Mount Zion Hospital.

Bird is a historian of the American foreign policy establishment.  He is the author of several biographies including “The Chairman: John J. McCloy and the Making of the American Establishment” and “The Color of Truth: McGeorge Bundy & William Bundy, Brothers in Arms.”  He is a recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship, a John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Writing Fellowship in Peace and International Relations, an Alicia Patterson Journalism Fellowship and a German Marshall Fellowship.  He is currently working on a memoir of his childhood in the Middle East. 

Sherwin is the Walter S. Dickson Professor of English and American History at Tufts University and author of the prize-winning “A World Destroyed: Hiroshima and Its Legacies.”  Sherwin has been an advisor for many documentary films on the history of the nuclear age.  He has been awarded fellowships from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the Guggenheim Foundation, American Academy of Arts and Sciences, National Endowment for the Humanities, Sloan Foundation, and Rockefeller Foundation.  In 1994 he was appointed Honorable UNESCO Professor of Humanities at Mendeleyev University in Moscow. 
The Maurice Galante Annual Lecture was created in 1995 in honor of the UCSF professor emeritus of surgery. Galante received his medical degree from Ohio State University in 1944. He moved to San Francisco to begin his residency in general surgery and completed his training in 1952 after military service.  Regarded as “one of the last generation of real ‘general’ surgeons,” Galante brought superb technical expertise to a wide variety of surgical procedures.

He also brought a rare humanism to his 50 years as a surgeon at UCSF Medical Center and trained scores of residents. His many patients expressed their gratitude through donations to support many programs in the Department of Surgery, including this annual lecture and the Maurice Galante Distinguished Professorship, currently held by School of Medicine dean emeritus Haile Debas, MD, executive director of UCSF Global Health Sciences.

UCSF is a leading university that advances health worldwide by conducting advanced biomedical research, educating graduate students in the life sciences and health professions, and providing complex patient care.

For more information, to schedule interviews, or to attend the lecture, contact Vanessa deGier at 415/476-2557.