Department of History, Technology and Medicine
University of Minnesota
2011 to 2012
Solid Foundations: Structuring American Solid State Physics, 1939-1993
Abstract: A series of debates about how science should be structured determined the institutional makeup, conceptual scope, and collaborative range of solid state physics (SSP) in the United States. The resolution of these structural debates, which rested on the assumption that scientists had latitude to arbitrate what did or did not belong within particular areas of science, tied SSP to the physics community with institutional rather than conceptual bonds, freeing it to be conceptually adventurous. A historical examination of these debates challenges the standard interpretation of twentieth-century physics in terms of increasing conceptual unity. SSP exemplified diversified research; a conceptual unification narrative is incompatible with the historical study of SSP. Solid state’s importance for twentieth century physics further indicates that institutional unification promoted conceptual diversity, pointing toward a more complete characterization of American physics’ development through the second half of the twentieth century.