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Complete your “Barbenheimer” celebration with American Experience: The Trials of J. Robert Oppenheimer

J. Robert Oppenheimer’s life and legacy are inextricably linked to America’s most famous top-secret initiative – the Manhattan Project. But after World War II, this brilliant and intense scientist, tasked with the development of the atomic bomb and widely considered one of the most important minds of the 20th century, fell from the innermost circles of American science. 


From award-winning producer David Grubin this biography presents a complex and revealing portrait of one of the most important American scientists of the twentieth century. Interweaving interviews with family members, scholars and colleagues with dramatic recreations featuring Academy Award-nominated actor David Strathairn (Good Night, and Good Luck, and The Bourne Ultimatum), this program follows J. Robert Oppenheimer on a fascinating arc through the century, from the heady world of international physics to the top-secret Manhattan Project, and finally to the dark days of the Red Scare and McCarthyism. 

Science and the military converged under a cloak of secrecy at Los Alamos National Laboratory. As part of the Manhattan Project, Los Alamos — both its very existence and the work that went on there — was kept from Americans during World War II. 

Many of the thousands of scientists on the project were not officially aware of what they were working on. Though they were not permitted to talk to anyone about their work, including each other, by 1945 some had figured out that they were in fact building an atomic bomb.

J. Robert Oppenheimer was brilliant, arrogant, proud, charismatic — and a national hero. Under his leadership during World War II, the United States succeeded in becoming the first nation to harness the power of nuclear energy to create the ultimate weapon of mass destruction — the atomic bomb. But after the bomb brought the war to an end, in spite of his renown and his enormous achievement, America turned on him, humiliated him, and cast him aside. The question this film asks is, “Why?”

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