Initial Conditions Trailer

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Initial conditions provide the context in which physics happens. Likewise, in Initial Conditions: a Physics History Podcast, we provide the context in which physical discoveries happened. We dive into the collections of the Niels Bohr Library & Archives at the American Institute of Physics to uncover the unexpected stories behind the physics we know. Through these stories, we hope to challenge the conventional history of what it means to be a physicist.


MAURA: We’re standing here in the stacks of the Niels Bohr Library & Archives at the American Institute of Physics.

ALLISON: Which, allegedly, according to a first grader, at least, smells like bananas.

MAURA: I don’t think it smells like bananas! Maybe it just smells like old books.

JUSTIN: Well, like I said, it smells like, uh, it has that institutional smell. (Laughs)

ALLISON: A good institutional smell! (Laughs)

JUSTIN: (Off mic) Ah…

MAURA: I’m Maura Shapiro

JUSTIN: And I’m Justin Shapiro–no relation.

ALLISON: And I’m Allison Rein.

JUSTIN: And we’re here to introduce Initial Conditions: A Physics History Podcast

ALLISON: So what are initial conditions?

MAURA: In physics, initial conditions are the circumstances in which physics happens. Things like the mass of an object, or the force of gravity, or even the height a pendulum is released. But in Initial Conditions, we want provide the context in which physical discoveries happened.

JUSTIN: Every week our tour guide Allison,

ALLISON: That’s me!

JUSTIN: who is also the Associate Director of Library Collections & Services, will take us into the stacks here at the Niels Bohr Library & Archives.

ALLISON: The collections here have some amazing items from books from all the way back to the 1500s, written in Latin, all the way up to books from the 21st century. As well as archival materials like hand-written letters, manuscripts, notes from classes, photographs, and oral histories where you can hear the scientists in their own words.

JUSTIN: With Allison’s help, Maura and I will use these materials to research, and share, some of the underrepresented and unconventional stories in physics history.

MAURA: Stories like the woman who discovered carbon dioxide’s ability to absorb heat, but didn’t receive credit for her discovery for a century and a half.

JUSTIN: Or how Black physicists in the United States built and maintained a community in a field dominated by white scientists

MAURA: We want to correct the record by introducing voices that are usually unheard in physics history

JUSTIN: and share with you, the listeners, how science is really done so we can all better understand it.

MAURA: You don’t need to be a physicist to listen

JUSTIN: I’m not.

ALLISON: Me either.

JUSTIN: You just need to be interested in stories that are incredibly important, but rarely discussed.

ALLISON: And this is more than a podcast! It’s a starting point for research and discovery. That's why we have a blog and digitized collections, so that learning doesn't have to end when the show does!

MAURA: I hope you’ll join us, here at Initial Conditions

JUSTIN: As we share some physics history!

MAURA: Subscribe to Initial Conditions wherever you get your podcasts.

About the Podcast Team