It was a calm Sunday morning in Princeton, N.J. and the door of the red brick building was securely locked. Two college boys rattled the knob and shouted: "Einstein! We want Einstein!" Pausing on her way to church, a lady inquired what the matter was. The boys explained: they were fraternity pledges at Bucknell University who had been dumped out the night before on a lonely road 200 miles from Princeton, with orders to thumb their way to "that place where Einstein thinks" and bring back his signature.
Like the Bucknell boys, most tourists and many Princeton residents consider the Institute for Advanced Study "that place where Einstein thinks." It is the truth, but not the whole truth. At 69, Albert Einstein is still an Institute faculty member, still comes floating, corona-haired, across "the grounds" to Fuld Hall every fair morning. But in the close-knit fraternity of physicists, it is sadly recognized that Einstein is a landmark, not a beacon; in the quick progress of physics, he has been left some leagues behind.
More & more physicists are coming to know the Institute as the home of an authentic contemporary hero of their trade: Dr. J. (for nothing) Robert Oppenheimer, who is president of the American Physical Society, chairman of the technical advisers to the Atomic Energy Commission, and one of the world's top theoretical physicists. Laymen know him as the man who bossed the production of the atom bomb. Last week, at 44, Oppenheimer was beginning his second year as director of the Institute for Advanced Study.
Sitting & Thinking. The Institute he presides over has neither teachers nor pupils in the ordinary sense; some "faculty members" never teach a class. Says Oppenheimer: "None of the usual apparatus of education will be found at the Institute, nor the people usually regarded as still capable of education." The Institute is perhaps the world's most exclusive school (almost everybody has a Ph.D.), but many of its members would deny that it is a school at all.
Oppenheimer himself suffered from this understandable misconception. At a faculty meeting, he remarked offhandedly: "After all, this is a school." Some of his colleagues objected: "If we had thought that the Institute was a school, we would never have come." There are other easy misconceptions. The Institute is not related to its neighbor, Princeton University, and is not engaged in making atomic bombs, though a 24-hour armed guard outside Oppenheimer's office protects atomic documents in his safe.
The Institute was born (in 1933) out of the union of one man's mind and another man's money. Comparing the scholarly output of Germany, England, France and the U.S., Abraham Flexner deplored the "wild, uncontrolled and uncritical expansion" in U.S. universities. Newark Merchant Louis Bamberger and his sister Mrs. Felix Fuld gave Flexner $5,000,000 to start a place where a few scholars could just "sit and think." Scientist Vannevar Bush was skeptical: "Well, I can see how you could tell whether they were sitting."