‘I Am So Bad At It,’ When Oppenheimer Hated Cambridge University, Tried To Poison His Tutor


A still from the trailer of Oppenheimer starring Cillian Murphy. | YouTube/@Universal Pictures

Fans across India and the world are anticipating the release of Christopher Nolan’s film ‘Oppenheimer’ on July 21 and rightfully so. The biographical thriller drama which is based on the life of ‘the father of the atomic bomb’, J. Robert Oppenheimer, has already sold over 22,500 tickets in India a day after advance bookings were opened for the same.

Though considered one of the most renowned theoretical physicists to ever live, Oppenheimer’s role in the Manhattan Project during World War 2 which led to the creation of the first nuclear weapons and the bombing of Japanese cities Hiroshima and Nagasaki will be documented at length through the film. Peaky Blinders fame Cillian Murphy will be seen in the lead role as Oppenheimer himself.

Oppenheimer was considered an academic genius

But even before Oppenheimer earned the worldwide fame he has now, he was considered an academic genius as he graduated from Harvard in 1925 and then went on to get accepted at Cambridge University.

As per different books, reports, and personal accounts of friends and family members of Oppenheimer, the US native was very unhappy about his time at Cambridge. Ray Monk, a British biographer, wrote in his biography ‘Robert Oppenheimer: A Life Inside the Center’ that Oppenheimer even wrote to a friend about his ordeal.

Why Oppenheimer didn’t like Cambridge University

“I am having a pretty bad time. The lab work is a terrible bore, and I am so bad at it that it is impossible to feel that I am learning anything,” Oppenheimer said in his letter addressed to his friend.

Oppenheimer almost poisoned tutor at Cambridge

Oppenheimer also had a difficult relationship with his tutor, Patrick Blackett, at the institute to the point where he considered poisoning him to death. Francis Ferguson, who was a graduate of Harvard and Oxford and theorist of drama as well as mythology, once stated that Oppenheimer confessed to him that he had left an apple filled with noxious chemicals on Blackett’s desk.

The incident led to university authorities alerting Oppenheimer’s parents, who lobbied them to not place the then student on probation.

By 1926, Oppenheimer eventually left Cambridge to study in University of Gottingen which was considered one of the world’s leading centres for theoretical physics.

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