A Short History of Physics in the American Century by David C. Cassidy

By David C. Cassidy

Because the 20th century drew to an in depth, pcs, the web, and nanotechnology have been valuable to fashionable American existence. but the advances in physics underlying those purposes are poorly understood and commonly underappreciated through U.S. voters this present day. during this concise evaluate, David C. Cassidy sharpens our standpoint on smooth physics through viewing this foundational technological know-how during the lens of America’s engagement with the political occasions of a tumultuous century.American physics first stirred within the 1890s—around the time x-rays and radioactivity have been found in Germany—with the founding of graduate faculties at the German version. but American study lagged in the back of the nice ecu laboratories until eventually powerful household rules, including the exodus of physicists from fascist nations, introduced the state into the 1st ranks of worldwide examine within the Nineteen Thirties. The construction of the atomic bomb and radar in the course of global battle II ensured lavish executive help for particle physics, besides computation, solid-state physics, and armed forces verbal exchange. those advances facilitated house exploration and ended in the worldwide enlargement of the Internet.Well into the Nineteen Sixties, physicists reinforced the us’ overseas prestige, and the country repaid the desire via gigantic outlays of federal, army, and philanthropic investment. yet steadily the United States relinquished its postwar dedication to clinical management, and the kingdom came upon itself suffering to keep up a aggressive aspect in technological know-how schooling and study. this day, American physicists, depending totally on business investment, needs to compete with smaller, scrappier countries cause on writing their very own short historical past of physics within the twenty-first century.

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Oppenheimer had headed for Harvard intending to major in chemistry. Having completed the required coursework, including organic chemistry with James B. Conant, Oppenheimer began gravitating toward experimental physics under Bridgman. Graduating summa cum laude in chemistry in just three years, Oppenheimer began graduate work in experimental physics in Britain at the famous Cavendish Laboratory at Cambridge University. ”51 Oppenheimer soon turned to theoretical physics. Just months before Oppenheimer arrived in Cambridge in September 1925, German physicist Werner Heisenberg, working in Göttingen, had made the initial breakthrough to quantum mechanics, the new physics of the atom.

Reflecting the two-tiered approach, physics in the newly constructed department buildings at state colleges still focused mainly on undergraduate courses for future engineers. But they now also included preparation of those intending to meet the rising demand for high-school physics teachers. For instance, Purdue University established an independent physics department with its own building in 1904. The building possessed advanced teaching laboratories for senior projects and, for the first time, laboratories for the special use of future teachers.

The chemistry department at Harvard “became practically a section of the War Department,” writes Harvard’s historian. ”2 By the end of the war two and a half years later, the result was a tighter integration of fundamental research into the nation’s economic and cul- American Physics Comes of Age 27 tural affairs and a positioning of physical science, especially physics, for acceleration onto the forefront of research in little over a decade. 3 Prepared for such a role through their experience as leaders of expensive, large-scale research projects, these managerial physicists applied their unique abilities in skilled diplomatic maneuvering and good business sense within and across the boundaries of physics and among their partners in government, business, the military, and philanthropy.

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