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The Shelter Island-Oppenheimer connection

Shelter Island has a connection to one of the summer’s blockbuster movies.

In an April 2021 profile of James and Linda Eklund and their Ram’s Head Inn, Reporter feature writer Charity Robey uncovered the fact that in June 1947, 25 of the best minds in physics met at the hotel over three days.

Officially dubbed the “Conference on the Foundations of Quantum Mechanics,” it was an historic meeting, headed by Robert Oppenheimer. Also in attendance were world-renowned scientists Linus Pauling, Edward Teller and  Richard Feynman.

The National Academy of Sciences stated that the “conference was in fact nothing less than a who’s who of postwar American physics. Interestingly, the attendees were treated like celebrities when they arrived at Greenport, Long Island, where they stopped before heading on to Shelter Island.” 

According to the American Physical Society, attendees “attacked quantum mechanics problems with the voracity of pirates plundering an enemy ship’s trove. Three days later, the scientists emerged victoriously with a booty that was far more valuable to them than any shiny doubloons: they had tackled some of the most perplexing mysteries of physics. In doing so, they put Shelter Island on the map of monuments of physics historical importance.”

A second conference, held in 1983 at the Ram’s Head, brought physics luminaries together again, this time including Stephen Hawking.

Ray Williamson, science teacher at Shelter Island School, brought his students to the Inn in 1983 to meet the physicists. Ms. Eklund asked the spouses of some of the participants if they usually came along for conferences.

“They said they had to,” she said. “These scientists think on such a level that operating a toaster oven is difficult for them.”

No reports — yet — of any life-sized Barbie sightings on the Island.