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History of Science

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From Subtle Fluids to Molecular Biology

In 1809--the year of Charles Darwin’s birth--Jean-Baptiste Lamarck published Philosophie zoologique, the first comprehensive and systematic theory of biological evolution. The Lamarckian approach emphasizes the generation of developmental variations; Darwinism stresses selection. Lamarck’s ideas were eventually eclipsed by Darwinian concepts, especially after the emergence of the Modern Synthesis in the twentieth century.

From Enlightenment to Neuroscience

Although Hermann von Helmholtz was one of most remarkable figures of nineteenth-century science, he is little known outside his native Germany. Helmholtz (1821–1894) made significant contributions to the study of vision and perception and was also influential in the painting, music, and literature of the time; one of his major works analyzed tone in music.

Zhores Alferov's Life in Communist Science

In 2000, Russian scientist Zhores Alferov shared the Nobel Prize for Physics for his discovery of the heterojunction, a semiconductor device the practical applications of which include LEDs, rapid transistors, and the microchip. The Prize was the culmination of a career in Soviet science that spanned the eras of Stalin, Khrushchev, and Gorbachev--and continues today in the postcommunist Russia of Putin and Medvedev.

Cultural Innovation in the Second Industrial Revolution

At the close of the nineteenth century, industrialization and urbanization marked the end of the traditional understanding of society as rooted in agriculture. Urban Modernity examines the construction of an urban-centered, industrial-based culture--an entirely new social reality based on science and technology. The authors show that this invention of modernity was brought about through the efforts of urban elites--businessmen, industrialists, and officials--to establish new science- and technology-related institutions.

Computer Models, Climate Data, and the Politics of Global Warming

Global warming skeptics often fall back on the argument that the scientific case for global warming is all model predictions, nothing but simulation; they warn us that we need to wait for real data, “sound science.” In A Vast Machine Paul Edwards has news for these skeptics: without models, there are no data. Today, no collection of signals or observations—even from satellites, which can “see” the whole planet with a single instrument—becomes global in time and space without passing through a series of data models. Everything we know about the world’s climate we know through models.

Arnold Sommerfeld and the Practice of Theory, 1890-1926

Arnold Sommerfeld (1868–1951) was among the most significant contributors to the birth of modern theoretical physics. At the University of Munich, beginning in 1906, he trained two generations of theoretical physicists. Eight of his students (among them Werner Heisenberg, Wolfgang Pauli, and Hans Bethe) went on to win the Nobel Prize. In Crafting the Quantum, Suman Seth offers the first English-language book-length study of Sommerfeld’s work, presenting an intellectual and cultural history of theoretical physics in Germany viewed through the lens of Sommerfeld’s research and pedagogy.

Energy in Victorian Literature and Science

In ThermoPoetics, Barri Gold sets out to show us how analogous, intertwined, and mutually productive poetry and physics may be. Charting the simultaneous emergence of the laws of thermodynamics in literature and in physics that began in the 1830s, Gold finds that not only can science influence literature, but literature can influence science, especially in the early stages of intellectual development. Nineteenth-century physics was often conducted in words. And, Gold claims, a poet could be a genius in thermodynamics and a novelist could be a damn good engineer.

Historians of mathematics have devoted considerable attention to Isaac Newton’s work on algebra, series, fluxions, quadratures, and geometry. In Isaac Newton on Mathematical Certainty and Method, Niccolò Guicciardini examines a critical aspect of Newton’s work that has not been tightly connected to Newton’s actual practice: his philosophy of mathematics.

Science and Politics in the 1980s

The nuclear winter phenomenon burst upon the public’s consciousness in 1983. Added to the horror of a nuclear war’s immediate effects was the fear that the smoke from fires ignited by the explosions would block the sun, creating an extended “winter” that might kill more people worldwide than the initial nuclear strikes. In A Nuclear Winter’s Tale, Lawrence Badash maps the rise and fall of the science of nuclear winter, examining research activity, the popularization of the concept, and the Reagan-era politics that combined to influence policy and public opinion.

International Expositions in the United States, 1876-1904

International expositions, with their massive assembling of exhibits and audiences, were the media events of their time. In transmitting a new culture of visibility that merged information, entertainment, and commerce, they provided a unique opportunity for the public to become aware of various social and technological advances. With Health and Medicine on Display, Julie Brown offers the first book-length examination of how international expositions, through their exhibits and infrastructures, sought to demonstrate innovations in applied health and medical practice.

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