Theatre and physics connect as panel explores Oppenheimer and the bomb

26 January 2015

A discussion on Robert Oppenheimer and the atomic bomb was held in front of an audience at the Royal Shakespeare Company’s (RSC’s) Swan theatre in Stratford-upon-Avon on 24 January with the involvement of the IOP.

The on-stage discussion, “Oppenheimer and the Bomb: is the possible inevitable?”, explored themes from the play Oppenheimer, which opened at the theatre on 15 January and runs until 7 March. The play centres on Oppenheimer’s leadership of the Manhattan Project, which developed the atomic weapons that were dropped on Japan in August 1945.

Taking part were playwright Tom Morton-Smith, director Angus Jackson, particle physicist and IOP fellow Prof. Frank Close, ITV’s science correspondent Alok Jha, and former literary editor of The Times, Erica Wagner. The discussion was chaired by Erica Whyman, the RSC’s deputy artistic director.

The event was held in association with the IOP’s Physics and the Arts in Conversation series, and grew out of an approach made to Tom Morton-Smith by physicist and writer Graham Farmelo, who is a fellow of the IOP. The RSC then worked with Farmelo and others at the IOP on the project.

Oppie 1
Credit: Keith Pattison

The RSC’s director of events and exhibitions, Geraldine Collinge, said: “We worked closely with Graham on the event and relied on his expertise to determine who would be best to invite onto the panel to give the physics perspective. It gave us an opportunity of working with the IOP to make sure that the discussion would connect with an audience of physicists.”

The IOP’s head of outreach and public engagement, Johanna Kieniewicz, said: “We see partnerships with cultural institutions as a really interesting and important way of engaging people. Science is a rich source of inspiration for artists, writers and musicians, and exploring that interface where science and culture meet is fascinating and a great way of reaching new audiences.

Jack Holden (left) as Robert Wilson, and Jamie Wilkes as Bob Serber
Credit: Keith Pattison

“More broadly, we’re saying that science is part of our culture and it has as much right to be on stage as plays exploring personal history, for example. The play Oppenheimer is an excellent demonstration of that intermingling and I think that the panel that gathered was an excellent one to explore that.”

  • Physics World’s reviews and careers editor, Margaret Harris, has written a blog post about the panel discussion
  • For more information on Oppenheimer:

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