Melba Phillips – Oppenheimer Colleague and OCU Alumni

Dr. Melba Phillips at BerkleyPerhaps you have wondered about the historical marker that sets on the Oakland City University campus. It celebrates a person who was perhaps our most famous alumnus, Melba Phillips. Melba graduated from Oakland City College in 1926 and went on to become a famous international woman physicist.

She was Professor Robert Oppenheimer’s first graduate student at UCLA Berkeley, where together they created the Oppenheimer-Phillips Process in 1936, a procedure still used in nuclear science. Perhaps you have seen the recent movie about Robert Oppenheimer and how he directed the making of the first atomic bomb.

A funny story about Oppenheimer and Melba concerns his bad driving. Melba did most of it, driving him around Berkley in his Buick. I’ve included a famous photo that he took of Melba in the driver’s seat of his car. You can see his thin shadow. Melba’s most important contribution, however, was in Physics education, here two introductory college textbooks long a stable in college courses.

Oppenheimer takes photo of Melba in his car.

Learn More About Dr, Phillips

Read the article from the Summer 2018 edition of Traces