Standards are the means by which we construct realities. There are established standards for professional accreditation, the environment, consumer products, animal welfare, the acceptable stress for highway bridges, healthcare, education—for almost everything. We are surrounded by a vast array of standards, many of which we take for granted but each of which has been and continues to be the subject of intense negotiation.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 (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.
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.
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.