Skip navigation

Jed Z. Buchwald

Jed Z. Buchwald is Director of the Dibner Institute for the History of Science and Technology and Bern Dibner Professor of the History of Science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Titles by This Editor

The Birth of Microphysics

In the mid to late 1890s, J. J. Thomson and colleagues at Cambridge's Cavendish Laboratory conducted experiments on "cathode rays" (a form of radiation produced within evacuated glass vessels subjected to electric fields)—the results of which some historians later viewed as the "discovery" of the electron. This book is both a biography of the electron and a history of the microphysical world that it opened up.

The book is organized in four parts. The first part, Corpuscles and Electrons, considers the varying accounts of Thomson's role in the experimental production of the electron. The second part, What Was the Newborn Electron Good For?, examines how scientists used the new entity in physical and chemical investigations. The third part, Electrons Applied and Appropriated, explores the accommodation, or lack thereof, of the electron in nuclear physics, chemistry, and electrical science. It follows the electron's gradual progress from cathode ray to ubiquitous subatomic particle and eponymous entity in one of the world's most successful industries—electronics. The fourth part, Philosophical Electrons, considers the role of the electron in issues of instrumentalism, epistemology, and realism. The electron, it turns out, can tell us a great deal about how science works.

Newton studies have undergone radical changes in the last half-century as more of his work has been uncovered and more details of his life and intellectual context have come to light. This volume singles out two strands in recent Newton studies: the intellectual background to Newton's scientific thought and both specific and general aspects of his technical science. The essays make new claims concerning Newton's mathematical methods, experimental investigations, and motivations, as well as the effect that his long presence had on science in England.

The book is divided into two parts. The essays in part I shed new light on Newton's motivations and the sources of his method. The essays in part II explore Newton's mathematical philosophy and his development of rational mechanics and celestial dynamics. An appendix includes the last paper by Newton biographer Richard W. Westfall, examining some of the ways that mathematics came to be used in the age of Newton in pursuits and domains other than theoretical or rational mechanics.