Before Big Science: The Pursuit of Modern Chemistry and Physics, 1800-1940

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Harvard University Press, 1999 - Science - 282 pages

Today's vast multinational scientific monoliths bear little resemblance to the modest laboratories of the early nineteenth century. Yet early in the nineteenth century--when heat and electricity were still counted among the elements--changes were already under way that would revolutionize chemistry and physics into the "big science" of the late twentieth century, expanding tiny, makeshift laboratories into bustling research institutes and replacing the scientific amateurs and generalist savants of the early Victorian era with the professional specialists of contemporary physical science.

Mary Jo Nye traces the social and intellectual history of the physical sciences from the early 1800s to the beginning of the Second World War, examining the sweeping transformation of scientific institutions and professions during the period and the groundbreaking experiments that fueled that change, from the earliest investigations of molecular chemistry and field dynamics to the revolutionary breakthroughs of quantum mechanics, relativity theory, and nuclear science.


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Mary Jo Nye’s Before Big Science: The Pursuit of Modern Chemistry and Physics, 1800 – 1940 “studies the individuals, institutions, and ideas that turned the late eighteenth-century traditions of ... Read full review


Disciplinary Organization in NineteenthCentury
Daltons Atom and Two Paths for the Study of Matter
The Electromagnetic View of Nature
Nationalism Internationalism and the Creation
The Claims of Science
Bibliographical Essay
Name Index

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