Hear the enticing tale of Oppie's office chair

April 12, 2021


By the National Security Research Center staff

Even the father of the atomic bomb had to sit down somewhere.

It's hard to believe that our legendary first Lab director and brilliant physicist J. Robert Oppenheimer did something as ordinary as using a chair at work like the rest of us do.

However, aside from a recently gifted book, this chair from the 1940s is the only Oppenheimer possession that the Lab has. And Oppie fans love it. The chair is routinely loaned to museums nationwide for display.

As it turns out, though, the fascination may be more about the man who sat in the chair than the chair itself.

Listen to Alan Carr, senior historian at the Lab’s National Security Research Center (NSRC), and Wendy Strohmeyer, the artifacts collection specialist for the Lab’s Bradbury Science Museum, in Episode 1 of the NSRC's Relics series.

Inside the episode

The Lab’s story starts three and a half years into World War II, following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. Army Gen. Leslie Groves was in charge of the Manhattan Project, which included a secret lab in Los Alamos called Project Y. Its purpose: To create the world’s first nuclear weapons.

Oppenheimer and his team did just that. In only 27 months, the Lab accomplished one of the greatest scientific achievements of all time and helped end WWII weeks later.

Perhaps Oppenheimer had his moments of scientific breakthrough while seated in his office. Or, maybe not.