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History of Science

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Scientific Authority and the Creation of Practical Electricity Before Edison

In 1882, Thomas Edison and his Edison Electric Light Company unveiled the first large-scale electrical system in the world to light a stretch of offices in a city. This was a monumental achievement, but it was not the beginning of the electrical age. The first electric generators were built in the 1830s, the earliest commercial lighting systems before 1860, and the first commercial application of generator-powered lights (in lighthouses) in the early 1860s.

Objectivity has a history, and it is full of surprises. In Objectivity, Lorraine Daston and Peter Galison chart the emergence of objectivity in the mid-nineteenth-century sciences—and show how the concept differs from its alternatives, truth-to-nature and trained judgment. This is a story of lofty epistemic ideals fused with workaday practices in the making of scientific images.

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.

Gender, Generation, and the Origins of Human Dissection

Toward the end of the Middle Ages, medical writers and philosophers began to devote increasing attention to what they called "women's secrets," by which they meant female sexuality and generation. At the same time, Italian physicians and surgeons began to open human bodies in order to study their functions and the illnesses that afflicted them, culminating in the great illustrated anatomical treatise of Andreas Vesalius in 1543.

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.

A Life in Sound, Science, and Industry

Leo Beranek, an Iowa farm boy who became a Renaissance man--scientist, inventor, entrepreneur, musician, television executive, philanthropist, and author--has lived life in constant motion. His seventy-year career, through the most tumultuous and transformative years of the last century, has always been propelled by the sheer exhilaration of trying something new. In Riding The Waves, Leo Beranek tells his story. Beranek’s life changed direction on a summer day in 1935 when he stopped to help a motorist with a flat tire.

From Marconi’s Black-Box to the Audion

By 1897 Guglielmo Marconi had transformed James Clerk Maxwell's theory of electromagnetic waves into a workable wireless telegraphy system, and by 1907 Lee de Forest had invented the audion, a feedback amplifier and oscillator that opened the way to practical radio transmission. Fifteen years after Marconi's invention, wireless had become an essential means of communication, as well as a hobby for many.

A History of Developmental Evolution

Although we now know that ontogeny (individual development) does not actually recapitulate phylogeny (evolutionary transformation), contrary to Ernst Haeckel's famous dictum, the relationship between embryological development and evolution remains the subject of intense scientific interest. In the 1990s a new field, evolutionary developmental biology (or evo-devo), was hailed as the synthesis of developmental and evolutionary biology.

Biology, Physics, and Change in Science

After World War II, particle physics became a dominant research discipline in American academia. At many universities, alumni of the Manhattan Project and of Los Alamos were granted resources to start (or strengthen) programs of high-energy physics built around the promise of a new and more powerful particle accelerator, the synchrotron. The synchrotron was also a source of very intense X-rays, useful for research in solid states physics and in biology.

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