In her new biography of the physicist and educator Frank Oppenheimer, Something Incredibly Wonderful Happens (Houghton Mifflin), science writer K.C. Cole says it was a "blessing" that "Ella and Julius [Oppenheimer] never lived to see the cruel hand history was later to deal their sons." Frank and his older brother Robert were mugged by history-both victims of guilt over their wartime work designing the atomic bomb, both victims of the Red Scare that ruined so many lives in the postwar years.
Robert, forever tarred as Father of the Bomb, spent the remainder of his unhappy days trying to atone for his atomic sins. Fate was more merciful to Frank, and Cole ably describes his new career as a science educator. The Exploratorium, Oppenheimer's museum of hands-on experiments in San Francisco, represents a very different kind of science than atomic weaponry-science as a life-affirming process of exploration, not a quest for better means of destruction.