News & Stories

The Strange Tale of Oppenheimer and Compton, Forman’s Nobel Laureate in Physics

Finally, let me conclude this month’s Rector’s Update with a “Fun Fact,” targeted especially on those members of the Forman community who might have seen the recent movie Oppenheimer which won several major awards including an Oscar and a BAFTA for Best Picture.

While regarded as historically accurate for the most part, there is one scene that does not stick to the facts, namely when Oppenheimer as the “father of the atomic bomb” travels to Princeton to discuss with Einstein the possibility that a nuclear explosion might end up unleashing a chain reaction that ultimately destroys the world. Such a conversation did in fact take place. However, it did not involve Oppenheimer traveling to Princeton to meet Einstein, rather it involved Oppenheimer traveling to a vacation cabin on Lake Michigan to meet Forman’s Nobel Laureate Arthur Compton where he posed the fateful question!

Compton subsequently worked on the Manhattan project and later became President of Washington University in St. Louis, even as his brother Karl became president of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and his other brother Wilson became President of Washington State University.

As it happens, the fourth Compton sibling Mary (widely viewed as the most brilliant of the four Compton children) married Forman Psychology Professor C. Herbert Rice who became Principal of Forman Christian College; it was this connection that ultimately brought Arthur Compton to Lahore where he taught for one year as a Guggenheim Fellow (1926-1927) at both Forman Christian College and Government College. After Pakistan’s independence, Compton visited Lahore (and presumably also Forman) at least twice, suggesting that his associations with Forman lasted several decades.