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The past and present of Los Alamos came together to make Oppenheimer

Cillian Murphy in

Enlarge / Cillian Murphy in Oppenheimer. (credit: IMAx/Universal Picture/YouTube)

Christopher Nolan’s newest film, Oppenheimer, grossed over $82 million domestically over its opening weekend. It is perhaps Nolan’s most significant project yet: a biopic of physicist J. Robert Oppenheimer, also known as the “father of the atomic bomb.”

To preserve Oppenheimer’s historical accuracy, Nolan and his film crew shot at the Institute of Advanced Study (IAS) in Princeton and Los Alamos, two places where Oppenheimer worked. Because the film was shot near the real-life campus of Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL), the opportunity arose for LANL researchers to join the film as extras. These interactions gave the scientists a more personal experience with LANL’s rich legacy and created a deeper level of detail for a movie that critics have called “a supersize masterpiece.”

Bringing in the extras

LANL’s inception began hastily, as the demands of World War II forced the US government to rush to create a facility for nuclear weapons development. As Oppenheimer shows, it was renowned engineer and science advocate Vannevar Bush who led the charge by working with several military personnel to birth a top-secret nuclear effort called Project Y. As Project Y developed into what we now know as the Manhattan Project in the early 1940s, Oppenheimer was appointed the first director of LANL. In the middle of the New Mexican desert, Oppenheimer and a team of brilliant scientists worked on developing the world’s deadliest weapon.

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