Foster Study of Diverse Topics
For more than a decade, the Center for History of Physics has given small Grants-in-Aid to historians. The recipients have used the funds to carry out research on a wide variety of topics relating to the history of physics and allied fields such as astronomy and geophysics. Since we last reported on this program (this Newsletter, Fall 1998), the AIP Center has awarded more than two dozen grants to scholars ranging from beginning graduate students to senior faculty. The grants are popular with researchers, for they are awarded twice yearly and are easy to apply for and use.
The awards given in the past three years reveal some features of current history of science. Interest in the lives of scientists, whether as individuals or collectively, continues to a fair degree. One previous Grant-in-Aid recipient, David DeVorkin, published a biography of astronomer Henry Norris Russell (Princeton University Press, 2000). While interest in traditional areas such as cosmology and relativity theory continues, many historians are looking beyond the traditional spheres of physics to its allied fields. For example, the growing attention to geophysics, which we noted in 1998, remains strong. Some topics, such as the history of global warming research or weather prediction, are especially relevant to current events and policy discussions.
Another continuing trend is that some scholars are studying not only the history of specific areas of scientific research, but also the development of the tools and techniques used by scientists. By considering the development of the electron microscopes, radiocarbon dating and large telescopes, grant recipients reflect an overall historiographical trend to treat the emergence of scientific communities and the experimental techniques that help define them.
The intersection of money, power, politics, and science throughout the Cold War era also remains a crucial area of historical investigation. Projects of this type tend to be wide-ranging in scope, and require scholars to weave threads of political history, foreign policy, and the history of science into a plausible and coherent story. Examining the history of "Cold War Science," broadly defined, remains an important activity for historians. It also helps illustrate a contribution that historians of science and technology can make to the larger history community. Somewhat related to this is a concentration of topics with a significant international component. Almost a third of the scholars receiving aid were interested in subjects largely situated outside of the United States (and a number of the scholars were themselves from other countries).
The AIP Center's Grants-in-Aid are given only to reimburse expenses such as travel. Each year a few grants of some $1,500-$2,500 each are given along with a dozen more in the range $200-$1,500. The majority of researchers use their grants to visit the Niels Bohr Library, where they examine the archival collections, but also often discover valuable material in the book collection and the finding aids to collections in other repositories. In return, the History Center benefits from the Grants-in-Aid program. Some scholars use their grants to conduct oral history interviews and copies are usually deposited in the Library for other scholars to use. A few grants have been awarded to preserve documentation, such as microfilming. In addition, the frequent visits of historians to the Center help staff to remain informed about what colleagues are working on.
In the three years since our last report, the following Grants-in-Aid were awarded. To Daniel Alexandrov: the Loffe-Ehrenfest circle and Russian physics; Alexis De Grieff: the International Center for Theoretical Physics at Trieste; Ron Doel: relations between science and foreign policy; Igor Drovenikov: oral histories with Russian physicists; Luis Ferreira: reception of the theory of general relativity; Gregory Good: geomagnetic research in Alaska; Gennady Gorelik: research on Academician A. Shalnikov and the lives of Lev Landau and George Gamow; Jacob Hamblin: marine geophysics; Kristine C. Harper: development of numerical weather prediction models; Nestor Herran: early development of radiocarbon dating; Jeremiah James: Linus Pauling's Bond Valence Program; Shaul Katzir: history of piezoelectrcity; Dong-Won Kim: Yoshio Nishina and Cambridge University; Sang Hyun Kim: global warming research in Britain; John Krige: the Ford Foundation's support of physics; Tanya Levin: research on Russian geophysicists; W. Patrick McCray: history of telescopes in postwar America; Cyrus Mody: history of scanning probe microscopes; Abigail O'Sullivan: research on Nobel Laureates; Gerhard Rammer: the Göttingen Institutes of Physics; Maria Rentetzi: the life of Marietta Blau; Chistopher J. Smeenk: early universe cosmology; Earle Williams: microfilming of C.T.R. Wilson's notebooks; Ivan Zavidonov: history of space physics. (For a list of interviews received from Grant-in-Aid participants this past year, see the Oral History list in our Recent Acquisitions article.)
Persons wishing to apply for a Grant-in-Aid should either be working toward a graduate degree in the history of science (in which case they should include a letter of reference from their thesis adviser), or show a record of publication in the field. To apply, send a vitae, a letter of no more than two pages describing your research project, and a brief budget showing the expenses for which support is requested to: Spencer Weart, Center for History of Physics, American Institute of Physics, One Physics Ellipse, College Park, MD 20740, or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information, see www.aip.org/history/web-grnt.htm. Deadlines are June 30 and December 31 of each year.