A narrative illustrated by dramatic photographs of the exhibition Atom smashers: fifty years, on display 1977-1988.
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Illustrated narrative account, elaborating the descriptive labels in a like-named Museum exhibition, 1981–82, in which was displayed the apparatus used in 1956 by Ernest Ambler and collaborators at the National Institute of Standards and Technology to confirm experimentally the theoretical prediction by C.N. Yang and T.D. Lee of the non-conservation of parity in some nuclear processes (“weak interactions”).
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.
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.
An overview of the several types of atomic frequency standards with some attention to the historical sequence and context of their development.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.