Chapter

Imperial Physics

in When Physics Became King

Published by University of Chicago Press

Published in print March 2005 | ISBN: 9780226542010
Published online March 2013 | e-ISBN: 9780226542003 | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.7208/chicago/9780226542003.003.0009
Imperial Physics

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This chapter presents a brief survey of physics and its institutions on the eve of the Great War. The book finishes with the First World War for two reasons. In the first place, the war brought the role of the new science of physics in international conflict to prominence for the first time. Physicists and their institutions in both Britain and Germany were involved in the war effort to an unprecedented degree. By the beginning of the twentieth century most of the institutions we identify with physics—the research institutes, university laboratories, and training regimes—were in place. The war made their relationship to the state explicit. At the same time, the decade of the Great War also saw the development of Einstein's theories of special and general relativity along with the beginnings of quantum mechanics. It is hoped that the book has given some sense of how physics fitted into nineteenth-century culture. By doing so, it should also have instilled some sense of the historically contingent nature of modern science and its institutions. Science is not a given. It is a cultural achievement of immense and unprecedented significance.

Keywords: physics; First World War; sciences; training; quantum mechanics; modern science; cultural achievement

Chapter.  10428 words. 

Subjects: History of Science and Technology

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