Oppenheimer: Who is Werner Heisenberg?

Kayla Harrington
Werner Heisenberg in real life and Matthias Matthias Schweighöfer who plays him in Oppenheimer

There’s a ton of historical figures in Christopher Nolan’s Oppenheimer, but who exactly was Werner Heisenberg? Here’s everything we know.

Christopher Nolan’s epic, three hour long biopic Oppenheimer has finally premiered after several months of joint campaigning with Greta Gerwig’s Barbie.

Nolan focused his latest movie on the life and work of renowned physicist J. Robert Oppenheimer, whose known as the father of the atomic bomb.

While there’s a lot of historical figures in the film — from politicians to scientists — fans zeroed in one a certain character Oppenheimer meets in his youth named Werner Heisenberg and who he was in real life. Here’s everything we know.

Who was Werner Heisenberg in Oppenheimer?

Werner Heisenberbg was a German theoretical physicist and one of the main pioneers of the theory of quantum mechanics.

Heisenberg, along with his assistant, Pascual Jordan, completed the “Zur Quantenmechanik II” (“On Quantum Mechanics II”), colloquially known as the “three-man paper,” which is known as the foundational document of a new quantum mechanics.

Heisenberg was awarded the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1933 and then was recruited to work for the Army Weapons Bureau on the problem of nuclear energy aka the atomic bomb. Heisenberg eventually took on a leading role in Germany’s nuclear research, which is now seen as controversial given it was being conducted by the Nazi Party.

In the film, Oppenheimer can be seen idolizing Heisenberg and they two share a brief encounter before World War II begins. Once he realized that Heisenberg was leading the Nazis in the creation of the atomic bomb, Oppenheimer began to speed up the experiments done by the Manhattan Project in Los Alamos.

However, Oppenheimer’s worries were nought as Heisenberg’s team was unsuccessful in producing a reactor or an atomic bomb. Some historians believe that Heisenberg was simply incompetent at his task while others have suggested he deliberately delayed or sabotaged the effort. 

Either way, in the arms race against the Nazis and Heisenberg, Oppenheimer was the “winner,” which is a very loose term as he helped create the weapons that could destroy the world with a press of a button.

Oppenheimer is in cinemas now. You can check out our other coverage of the movie below: 

Review | Ending explained | Epic runtime revealed | R-rating explained | Best way to watch Oppenheimer | Christopher Nolan on sex scenes | Cast and characters | Filming locations | True story explained | Is Oppenheimer streaming? | Nolan ranked by Rotten Tomato scores | Is it based on a book? | Age-gap controversy explained Robert Pattinson’s influence | How Oppenheimer died | Christopher Nolan explains strange script | Did Japan ban Oppenheimer? | Review roundup | Does Oppenheimer have a post-credits scene? | Box office | Was Jean Tatlock murdered? | What happened to Kitty? | Why did Lewis Strauss hate Oppenheimer?