Cullan McHugh was deeply impacted by the depiction of the nuclear bomb being dropped in the movie “Oppenheimer,” reflecting on the overlap between science, politics, and government. His research on these topics led him to see the human side of scientists involved in the Manhattan Project, highlighting their personalities not often captured in textbooks. He appreciated the reminder that they were geniuses but also humans.
The movie also inspired McHugh to consider the consequences of the bomb and the way it shifted public opinion about the role of science and government. This included the development of oversight committees like the Office of Technology Assessment (OTA) to examine and assess the impacts of new technologies in a socially responsible way. McHugh was struck by how scientists involved in creating the nuclear bomb supported the idea of technology assessment to separate research from decision-making processes.
Professor Daniel Klinghard compared the aftermath of the Manhattan Project to ongoing debates about technology oversight today. He highlighted the idea that the bomb’s creation became intertwined with the career and identity of some scientists, which compromised their ability to view the research objectively. This underscores the importance of establishing separation between scientists and the causes they work on, similar to the role envisioned for the OTA.