Publications

The list of selected staff publications may be searched by keyword or author and can be sorted by year.

"Atomichron®: The Atomic Clock from Concept to Commercial Product," Proceedings of the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers, 73: 1181–1204 (1985).

Illustrated narrative account of the concept and realization of atomic frequency standards, 1873–1953, and, in greater detail, of development, 1953–56, of the first commercial atomic frequency standard. This device, tradenamed Atomichron®, incorporating the first vacuum-sealed cesium beam tube, resulted from the collaboration of MIT physicist Jerrold Zacharias, and his student R.T. Daly Jr, with the National [Radio] Company of Malden, Mass.

"The Discovery of the Diffraction of X-rays by Crystals: A Critique of the Myths" Archive for History of Exact Sciences, 6: 38–71 (1969).

Argues that the usual accounts of the discovery of diffraction of X-rays by crystals in Munich in 1912 have rationalized that discovery by reading back into the minds of the discoverers an explanation of the observed effect that none of them then held, and that was only gradually and haltingly worked out after the discovery.

"Behind quantum electronics: national security as basis for physical research in the United States, 1940–1960." Historical Studies in the Physical Sciences, 18: 149–229 (1987). Reprinted in Science and Society: The History of Modern Physical Science in the Twentieth Century. Peter Louis Galison, Michael Gordin, and David Kaiser, editors. 4 vols (New York : Routledge, 2001).

Gives various measures of the expansion of physical research in and following World War II and makes a broad case that it had the purpose and the result of reorienting that research toward refined and magnified effects, toward technique rather than toward concept, as this was where lay the interests of the national security agencies sponsoring that research.

"The Doublet Riddle and Atomic Physics circa 1924," Isis, 59: 156–174 (1968).

Argues that the usual accounts of the development of quantum theory have mistakenly supposed that the problems relating to the interaction and the analogies between matter and radiation out of which the quantum mechanics emerged in 1925 were also the problems that in the preceding years quantum theorists regarded as most central and indicative for the failure of classical mechanics.

"Clocks, atomic." Instruments of science: an historical encyclopedia. Robert Bud and D. J. Warner, eds. (Garland Publishing Co.: New York and London, 1998), pp. 118–121.

An overview of the several types of atomic frequency standards with some attention to the historical sequence and context of their development.

"The Financial Support and Political Alignment of Physicists in Weimar Germany," Minerva, 12: 39–66 (1974).

Examines the two principal supports for the research of German academic physicists created during the catastrophic inflation following the First World War—the Notgemeinschaft and the Helmholtz Gesellschaft—relating the policies and practices in distribution of funds to the political orientation of those providing the funds and those evaluating applications for funds.

"From the social to the moral to the spiritual: the postmodern exaltation of the history of science" in Positioning the History of Science [Festschrift for S.S. Schweber], edited by Jürgen Renn and Kostas Gavroglu. ‘Boston Studies in the Philosophy of Science , Vol. 248’ (Berlin and New York: Springer Verlag, 2007), pp. 49-55.

Some consequences for the writing of the history of science following from the demise in postmodernity of disciplinarity, and of every other form of social solidarity, are pointed out.  The rising interest in the moral dimension of history and history of science from the late 1960s through the 1980s, and the coincident decline of interest in the social dimension, is documented bibliometrically and asserted to be indicative of the onset of postmodernity.  The recently surging interest in spirituality is similarly documented and asserted to be indicative of our presently more fully realized condition of postmodernity.

"The First Atomic Clock Program: NBS, 1947–1954," Proceedings of the 17th Annual Precise Time and Time Interval Applications and Planning Meeting, 1985 Dec.3–6 (NASA: Washington, D.C., 1986), 1-17.

Illustrated narrative account of the broadly conceived program to develop several types of atomic clocks built up by Harold Lyons as head of the Microwave Standards Section of the National Bureau of Standards’ (now NIST) military-controlled Central Radio Propagation Laboratory—the first such program, from which also came the first atomic clock.

"How Lewis Mumford saw science, and art, and himself," Historical Studies in the Physical and Biological Sciences, 38 (2007), 271-336.

Mumford saw himself as a scientist of a sort, a fact ignored by nearly every scholar writing about him in the past thirty years.  Mumford’s estimation of science, of physics especially, was far higher and far more constant than was his estimation of technology, which only during a short period in the late 1920s and early 1930s did he regarded as embodying affirmable values.  Although he deplored nuclear weapons, Mumford’s valuation of science as an element of culture, and of scientists as agents of social progress, rose in the postwar decades.  This was a result of Mumford’s rejection of contemporary art, for after the mid-1930s Mumford could no longer suppress the distaste he felt for abstract art, and could no longer sustain his earlier belief — a common faith in the late 19th and early 20th centuries — that art and the artist were the agents by which new, socially salvific values were created.

"The Primacy of Science in Modernity, of Technology in Postmodernity, and of Ideology in the History of Technology" History and Technology, 23:1, 1 - 152.

The abrupt reversal of culturally ascribed primacy in the science & technology relationship—namely, from the primacy of science relative to technology prior to circa 1980, to the primacy of technology relative to science since about that date—is proposed as a demarcator of postmodernity from modernity. Ironically, that prior primacy of science is largely responsible for historians of technology having remained almost wholly unacknowledging of postmodernity’s epochal elevation of the cultural standing of the subject of their studies.
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"In the Era of the Earmark: the Recent Pejoration of Meritocracy—and of Peer Review" in Recent Science Newsletter, v.2, nr 3 (Spring 2001), pp. 1, 10–12.

The modern/postmodern transition as reflected in the changing connotations of the word ‘meritocracy’ and in the recent turn away from expert peer review, formerly regarded as the optimal way to allot funds for scientific research.

"Into quantum electronics: the maser as 'gadget' of Cold-War America." In Paul Forman and José M. Sánchez-Ron, eds. National Military Establishments and the Advancement of Science and Technology: Studies in Twentieth Century History (Kluwer Academic Publ.: Dordrecht, 1996), pp. 261–326.

A close examination of the origins of the ammonia beam maser within the military-sponsored Columbia Radiation Laboratory in the early 1950s, together with an examination of the term ‘gadget’ in the parlance of American physicists of that era as indicative of the uneasy relation between their disciplinary self-image and their laboratory practice.

"Truth and objectivity. Part 1: Irony. Part 2: Trust." Science, 269: 565-567, 707–710 (1995).

An essay review of A. Megill, ed., Rethinking objectivity (1994); J. Appleby, L. Hunt, and M. Jacob, Telling the truth about history (1994); S. Shapin, A social history of truth (1994);T. Porter, Trust in numbers (1995). It makes the point that as challenges to belief in truth and in objectivity have escaped from academic discussion, becoming axioms of popular culture, many scholars who previously contributed to undermining that belief are becoming alarmed at the consequences of wholesale voluntarism.

"Inventing the Maser in Postwar America," Osiris, 7: 105–134 (1992).

A critical examination of the concepts and assumptions regarding radiation fields and their interaction with matter underlying the invention of the ammonia beam maser by Charles Townes and his collaborators at Columbia University in the early 1950s, emphasizing particularly that the merits of the device as ‘atomic clock’ were not anticipated, and that until it actually worked the maser was not a priority project in Townes laboratory.

"Tunnels!' —A talk through the exhibition." In Going Underground: Tunneling Past, Present, and Future. Jeffrey K. Stine and Howard Rosen, eds. (Public Works Historical Society: Kansas City, Mo., 1998), 142–49.

An overview of the exhibition in the Smithsonian Institution Libraries’ Dibner Gallery in the Museum, August 1993 to May 1994. The last exhibition to be curated by Ellen Wells, it traced the history of tunneling technology, from antiquity to the present, with particular emphasis on the 19th century.

"Lock-in detection/amplifier." Instruments of science: an historical encyclopedia. Robert Bud and D. J. Warner, eds. (Garland Publishing Co.: New York and London, 1998), pp.359–361.

Consideration of the signal/noise ratio became widespread, indeed mandatory, in physical research only in the years following World War II, largely as a result of analyses and techniques developed to detect a ‘real’ signal in the noisy output of a radar receiver. "Lock-in detection,” most influentially embodied in R. H. Dicke’s microwave radiometer, 1943, is a procedure for noise reduction through subtraction of inputs followed by frequency specific amplification and detection.

"Weimar Culture, Causality, and Quantum Theory, 1918-1927: Aadaptation by German Physicists and Mathematicians to a Hostile Intellectual Environment," Historical Studies in the Physical Sciences, 3: 1–115 (1971).

Argues that the acausal character of the quantum mechanics discovered in 1925–26 was not a matter of chance. Rather, in the years before its discovery, German physicists, prompted by and participating in strong cultural currents antipathetic to the concept of causality, had identified the abandonment of causality as the principal desideratum for the theory to replace classical mechanics.

"Molecular beam measurements of nuclear moments before magnetic resonance: I. I. Rabi and deflecting magnets to 1938. Part I." Annals of Science, v.55: 111–160 (1998).

A close examination of the earliest phases of I. I. Rabi’s scientific life and work, through his postdoctoral research at Hamburg University with Otto Stern, 1927-29, and of the techniques for magnetic deflection of molecular beams employed by Stern and Rabi in that laboratory.

"What the Past Tells Us about the Future of Science" in La ciencia y la tecnologia ante el tercer milenio. José Manuel Sánchez Ron, ed. Madrid: Sociedad Estatal España Nuevo Milenio, 2002. pp. 27–37.

The future of science cannot be predicted by extrapolating current scientific concepts but can, to some extent, by considering the general social and cultural conditions under which scientific knowledge is being produced at present and is likely to be produced in the future.

The AAM Guide to Collections Planning with Elizabeth Merritt. (Washington, D.C.: American Association of Museums, 2004).
Ordinary People and Everyday Life: Perspectives on the New Social History e.d. (Nashville: AASLH, 1983).
A Historical Guide to the United States, editor and contributor. (New York: W.W. Norton and Company, 1986).
Public History: Essays from the Field, e.d., with Peter S. LaPaglia. (Malabar, FL: Krieger Publishing Company, 2004).
"The Redefinition of Historical Scholarship: Calling a Tail a Leg?: Response," The Public Historian 21 (Spring 1999): 95–97.
"Contested Terrain: History, Museums and the Public," The Public Historian

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