Physics Site Excels at Science History

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), October 9, 2003 | Go to article overview

Physics Site Excels at Science History


Byline: Joseph Szadkowski, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

The American Institute of Physics (AIP) has spent 72 years promoting the science of matter and energy along with its applications to human welfare. One part of its Web site has been devoted to the history of the discipline and some of its more prominent researchers and their discoveries. It offers a whirlwind tour for amateur science historians in the family.

AIP's Exhibit Hall

Site address: www.aip.org/history/ exhibit.htm

Creator: The AIP's Center for History of Physics in College Park maintains the site with support from AIP's general revenues and donations from the Friends of the Center for History of Physics. The AIP is part of the Center for History of Physics, which is a nonprofit membership corporation.

Creator quotable: "We're deeply concerned that people, and especially young people, get a distorted view of science," the center's director, historian Spencer Weart, says.

"Too often, the scientist is seen as a bodiless brain. We use history to show scientists as they really are - people with ideals and problems, a husband or a wife and a job, one day puzzling over fascinating questions, the next day out raising money for their labs. Of course, in some ways, they are extraordinary people with remarkable ideas, and we aim to show that as well."

Word from the Webwise: Ten icons in the Exhibit Hall area lead to no-nonsense, well-researched modules that explore the back story of creators and the principles they brought to light.

The modules - Marie Curie and Radioactivity; Albert Einstein: Image and Impact; Transistorized! - History of the Transistor; Lawrence and the Cyclotron; Werner Heisenberg and Uncertainty; Papers of Great American Physicists; Sakharov, Physics, Weapons and Rights; The Discovery of the Electron; The Discovery of Global Warming; and Moments of Discovery - all come bundled with pages of text, illustrations, sound bytes and historic photographs to thoroughly dissect the given topic.

Mr. Weart concentrates much of the institute's educational firepower on discoveries surrounding the harnessing of the atom, the power it could unleash upon a world at war and its implications on the future of the planet. No fewer than four modules touch on the volatile subject.

Readers get an overview of Werner Heisenberg's quantum mechanics theories and his work as Germany's chief nuclear researcher. Albert Einstein explains his theory of relativity through an audio clip found in his module, which also contains photo-loaded pages on his role as pop-culture icon as well as chairman of the Emergency Committee of Atomic Scientists. …

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