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  7:30 pm, Wednesday, December 13, 2006
Hennings Building, Room 201

How the Ether Spawned the Microworld

Jed Buchwald

Dept of History, Caltech

Throughout most of the 19th century the atom and the molecule were not customary presences in the calculations and laboratories of many physicists. Although most were convinced of atomic reality, many were not, and in any case the vast bulk of work in physics had little to do with the micro-world. All of this had changed dramatically by 1910, for microphysics was by then at the very foundation of theoretical and experimental research. How did the micro-world acquire this central role, one that it has played ever since? Was it propelled to prominence by a series of stunning experimental discoveries (the electron, X-rays, and radioactivity) that occurred between 1895 and 1900? Or did it first emerge on paper, only subsequently acquiring a new life in such laboratories as the Cavendish? Why did the world of the atom displace the world of the ether during the 1890s?

Find out more by visiting his website.

Additional resources for this talk: video, slides.