For the last two months, I have worked as an intern with the Center for History of Physics (CHP) and the Niels Bohr Library & Archives (NBLA) at the American Institute of Physics (AIP). This internship was part of the Society of Physics Students (SPS) Internship Program. The most significant take-away from my two months at AIP can be summarized with the word “unifying.”

A brief background: I studied history and physics during my undergrad at the University of Utah. I was determined to keep the two fields independent, separating the work of physics from my historical questions. That did not last long. During my sophomore year, I wrote a research proposal regarding how Ottoman science impacted European natural philosophy and I went on to take a class on science, technology and society. I began to see how the history of science worked within the discipline of history, but I had no conception of its placement in the discipline of physics.

Several of my peers and mentors with backgrounds in mathematics and physics helped me realize that the history of physics has a place, not just in the discipline of history, but also in the discipline of physics. I was delighted to learn that AIP celebrates efforts to document and engage physics with skills from the humanities. I was even more delighted to realize that I could spend two months applying historical techniques to supplement and even explain physics!

Interdisciplinary work is so valuable as it brings new perspectives to the table. Familiarity with different disciplines increases one’s tools to address problems. It can even change how one diagnoses issues. I appreciate AIP’s approach to examining the history of physics, both historically, and as it unfolds. I have learned so much from the perspectives of my colleagues at AIP, with backgrounds in either the humanities or physics (and its related fields), both of which bring great value to projects.

The task of bringing history to physics teaching and outreach has been an enjoyable challenge. Even before the start of my internship, I spent time considering ways that educators can productively incorporate history into their physics courses. During the summer, I was able to develop material that could be used for this purpose. The teaching guides I completed highlight topics in both the history of physics, and physics itself  (access these guides here: Making Waves, On the Shoulders of Giants, and The Heritage of All Mankind). The process has not only unified my backgrounds, but it has allowed me to see further connections in the material I examined for the teaching guides and outreach. If you would like to see one example of physics presented as a story, see my post “A Visual Walk Through the Fundamentals.

The main thing I find myself returning to at the end of my internship at AIP is that there is so much to a subject, both within that subject independently, as well as beyond the exclusive bounds of that field. There is a richness that is both complex and unifying. 

For more information, view Maria’s SPS Internship Blog and Symposium Presentation here. The 2020 SPS Interns are pictured below.

The 2020 SPS Interns (courtesy of SPS). Maria is in green in the bottom left.

The 2020 SPS Interns (courtesy of SPS). Maria is in green in the bottom left.

About the Author

Maria Stokes

Maria Stokes

Maria Stokes is the 2020 Society of Physics Students Intern with the Center for History of Physics and the Niels Bohr Library and Archives. She develops teaching guides for CHP and works on outreach for NBLA. Maria earned a HBS in Physics and a HBA in History from the University of Utah. She enjoys photography and camping. 

Caption: The Western Veil Nebula: One of the brightest objects in the x-ray sky. Image by Ken Crawford.

See all articles by Maria Stokes

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