Frank Oppenheimer facts


Like Chuck Norris, but better, because they're all true. Alice Bell introduces us to the crazy, amazing world of the little brother of the Father of the Atomic Bomb.

FACT As a child, Frank Oppenheimer discovered his own sperm using a microscope. He later called it "most wonderful scientific discovery that I ever made".

FACT J. Robert Oppenheimer accused his little brother of being "slow" because it took Frank a bit longer than average to finish up his Ph.D. The real reason for the delay: Frank had joined the Communist Party and was absorbed in Great Depression-era political and social justice work.

FACT After getting blackballed out of academia during the Red Scare in the late 1940s, Frank bought a cattle ranch in rural Colorado and became a high school science teacher. There, he taught kids about thermodynamics via trips to the city dump to scavenge machine parts, and augmented a lesson on the biology of the ear by killing and dissecting a kitten. His experiences teaching science to kids later led him to found The Exploratorium.

FACT Thanks to The Exploratorium website, I now know that there is a very fine line between making something cuter, and making it hellishly creepy. Thanks, Dr. Oppenheimer!

There's more at the Guardian Science Blog: Frank Oppenheimer

Image of Frank Oppenheimer courtesy The Exploratorium, used via CC


    1. Actually, It’ll be interesting to see how 4chan comes down on this one. On the plus side, not Chuck “Jesus” Norris. On the minus side, dissecting kittehs.

      When meme’s collide.

  1. As a child, Frank Oppenheimer discovered his own sperm…

    Um….as a child? I’m fairly certain that not even Chuck Norris “discovered” his own sperm before he was an adolescent.

    1. A teenage can still be called child, especially if it’s being used in direct contrast to the older man that we think of him as.

  2. The Exploratorium is a mandatory visit every time I’m in San Francisco. I haven’t found the kitten dissection exhibit yet.

  3. I met Frank when a group of us were checking out the Palace of Fine Arts space long before the Exploratorium was built there. (This must have been around 1970) It was a dark and enormous, empty, (and a bit scary) place. And the echoes were amazing. To test the acoustics, Frank pulled a sopranino recorder from his pocket and began to play some tunes on it. It was an amazing moment.

  4. I was loving it until the sperm part… and the communist part… and the kitten part. Somehow I instinctively knew about the Exploratorium part.

    1. wrong Oppenheimer, but I’m guessing you knew that if you could quote that. loved it. :)

      for a while now, i’ve been thinking how much I’d love to have either action figures or trading cards (or both) of Awesome Scientists. I wanted to be Niels Bohr for Halloween, but being female, it just wasn’t gonna fly.

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