Who Are J. Robert Oppenheimer's Grandchildren?

We know that J. Robert Oppenheimer fled humanity to live out his final years from 1955 to 1967 to live in a hand-built beach cabin on what's been dubbed "Oppenheimer Beach" on the northwest of St. John's in the U.S. Virgin Islands. After Oppenheimer died in 1967 at the age of 62 from lung cancer, Oppenheimer's wife Kitty died five years later in 1972. Kitty had scattered her husband's ashes on the ocean near Carval Rock northwest of Oppenheimer Beach, and their daughter Toni did the same for Kitty. Then in 1977 Toni died by suicide. That left Oppenheimer's other child, Peter, to carry on the family name and line.

As Today explains, Peter was born in 1941 at the onset of World War II at a time when his father wasn't "the father of the atomic bomb," but just a teacher at the California Institute of Technology and the University of California at Berkeley. Peter grew up while his father worked on the Manhattan Project, and after World War II ended he went to a Quaker boarding school in Pennsylvania, then Colorado, and then New Mexico. There he had three children: Dorothy, Charles, and Ella. Dorothy and Charles live in the public light, while Ella does not.   

Honoring the Oppenheimer name

As the Atomic Heritage Foundation (AHF) says, neither Dorothy Vanderford (née Oppenheimer) nor Charles Oppenheimer knew their grandfather. Dorothy was born in 1973 and Charles in 1975. Sites like Insider confirm that little information exists about J. Robert Oppenheimer's third grandchild, Ella, although Oppenheimer's mother was named Ella. This means that Peter Oppenheimer named one of his daughters after his grandmother. 

As News 3LV explains, Dorothy has followed closest in her grandfather's physical footsteps. She works at the Nevada National Security Site (NNSS), a nuclear response-and-readiness facility dedicated to nuclear nonproliferation, U.S. national security, and "long-term environmental stewardship of the NNSS's Cold War legacy." Interestingly, until 2010 the NNSS used to be the Nevada Test Site (NTS), the President Harry Truman-appointed stretch of desert 65 miles north of Las Vegas used for nuclear bomb testing in the 1950s. As of 2023, News 3LV said Dorothy is a technical writer in her role at the facility.

Charles also plays an active role in his grandfather's legacy. His bio on the Oppenheimer Project — an Oppenheimer family-run organization "committed to honoring the legacy of J. Robert Oppenheimer" — describes him as a software developer, investor, and entrepreneur. In the same vein his Twitter bio says that he "represent[s] the family of J. Robert Oppenheimer." He's also written op-eds about his grandfather on sites like the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, where he describes his grandfather as a science-loving person who did his duty to his country and was shunned after the fact.

Family opinions about Christopher Nolan's Oppenheimer

On Time, Charles Oppenheimer goes into detail about his involvement in Christopher Nolan's "Oppenheimer" film, his opinion of it, and how he generally avoids what he calls "the cult of Oppenheimer" that's cropped up around his grandfather over time. It's important to remember that Nolan's film is based primarily on the 2007 J. Robert Oppenheimer biographical book "American Prometheus." 

In conversation, Nolan informed Charles early on that parts of "Oppenheimer" would have to be more factual than others, some parts dramatized, and that Charles probably wouldn't take too well to certain parts. This prepared Charles early on for seeing the film. Overall, he said that he was impressed with "Oppenheimer," particularly how the story was told through Lewis Strauss' perspective. He also mentioned minor inaccuracies that stood out to him such as the apple scene, or Cillian Murphy in the role of J. Robert Oppenheimer saying "***hole." His grandfather, Charles said, never cursed because he was "such a formal person."

For her part, News 3LV quotes Dorothy Vanderford as feeling "positive" about "Oppenheimer" after having seen it. She also called her grandfather a "real patriot." Additionally, she told her grandfather's biographer, Kai Bird — author of "American Prometheus" — that Peter inherited some of her grandfather's resilience and adaptability. "[Peter] could get us out of any kind of jam," she said (per AHF). "I learned a lot about how to live on land and in nature. I absolutely appreciate that. I think that is something that's passed down through my family, from Robert Oppenheimer, through to my dad, to me."