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History of Science

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The Genesis of Modern Meteorology

For much of the first half of the twentieth century, meteorology was more art than science, dependent on an individual forecaster’s lifetime of local experience. In Weather by the Numbers, Kristine Harper tells the story of the transformation of meteorology from a “guessing science” into a sophisticated scientific discipline based on physics and mathematics.

Probe Microscopy and the Path to Nanotechnology

The scanning tunneling microscope (STM) has been hailed as the “key enabling discovery for nanotechnology,” the catalyst for a scientific field that attracts nearly $20 billion in funding each year. In Instrumental Community, Cyrus Mody argues that this technology-centric view does not explain how these microscopes helped to launch nanotechnology--and fails to acknowledge the agency of the microscopists in making the STM and its variants critically important tools.

A History of Quantum Chemistry

Quantum chemistry--a discipline that is not quite physics, not quite chemistry, and not quite applied mathematics--emerged as a field of study in the 1920s. It was referred to by such terms as mathematical chemistry, subatomic theoretical chemistry, molecular quantum mechanics, and chemical physics until the community agreed on the designation of quantum chemistry.

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 Islamic scientific tradition has been described many times in accounts of Islamic civilization and general histories of science, with most authors tracing its beginnings to the appropriation of ideas from other ancient civilizations—the Greeks in particular. In this thought-provoking and original book, George Saliba argues that, contrary to the generally accepted view, the foundations of Islamic scientific thought were laid well before Greek sources were formally translated into Arabic in the ninth century.

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.

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