Disseminating Knowledge from the Center to the Periphery: Lars Vegard & the Development of Norwegian Auroral Research

By Thorleif A. Kristiansen

Universitetet i Oslo


I will discuss how scientific knowledge might disseminate from the center to the periphery, using the Norwegian physicist Lars Vegard’s education and research as a case. Norwegian physics in the early 20th century was largely dominated by the study of northern lights, Aurora Borealis. There were not many scientists involved, and the field was primarily revolved around one person, the physicist and entrepreneur Kristian Birkeland. Norway belonged to the periphery of the European scientific community and the educational system was in general insufficient for ambitious physicists. Lars Vegard graduated from the University of Oslo in 1905 and immediately got a position as an assistant of Birkeland, analyzing data from observations of northern lights. In the period from 1907 to 1912 Vegard spent most of his time abroad, at different centers of experimental physics research: with JJ Thomson in Cambridge, W.H. Bragg in Leeds and W. Wien in Würzburg. He later returned to Norway and continued research on northern lights, however introducing theories expanding and somewhat contradicting Birkeland’s established view. Were these new theories a consequence of what he learned on his scientific travels? May Vegard’s development be used as a valid example of how scientific knowledge diffuses from the center to the periphery?