University of Minnesota
School of Physics & Astronomy

Physics and Astronomy Calendar

Friday, December 7th 2018
Speaker: Roger Stuewer, History of Science and Technology, Department University of Minnesota
Subject: From the Old to the New World of Nuclear Physics, 1919–1939
Refreshments served at 3:15 p.m.

These two interwar decades, as I discuss in my new book, The Age of Innocence: Nuclear Physics between the First and Second World Wars (Oxford University Press. 2018), saw the nascent field of nuclear become the dominant field of experimental and theoretical physics, owing to an international cast of gifted physicists. Prominent among them were Ernest Rutherford and James Chadwick, George Gamow, the husband and wife team of Frédéric and Irène Joliot-Curie, John Cockcroft and Ernest Walton, Ernest Lawrence, Enrico Fermi, Niels Bohr, Gregory Breit and Eugene Wigner, and Lise Meitner and Otto Robert Frisch. Their fundamental discoveries and pioneering inventions arose from a quest to understand nuclear phenomena; none were motivated by a desire to find a practical application for nuclear energy. In this sense, they lived in an “Age of Innocence.” They did not, however, live in isolation. Their research reflected their idiosyncratic personalities; it was shaped by the physical and intellectual environments of the countries and institutions in which they worked; and it was buffeted by the turbulent political events after the Great War: the harsh postwar treaties, the runaway inflation in Germany and Austria, and the intellectual migration from Germany and later from Austria and Italy.

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