How can physics tie into 20th century European history?

In summary: ). I remember one of the books talked about how the communist party was so sure about the correctness of their ideology that they neglected to take into account certain scientific facts that contradicted their dogma (e.g. the existence of the atom bomb). Consequently, whole fields of science were neglected (e.g. nuclear physics).Another aspect worth mentioning is the suppression of dissent. It wasn't just scientists who were suppressed, it was also intellectuals, journalists, and any others who disagreed with the party line. This resulted in a lot of scientific research being done in secret, and it often had to do with technologies that the communists didn't want the enemy to know about (e.g. the Soviet Union's early ballistic missile programs).
  • #1
Dishsoap
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Good evening,

I am in a bit of a predicament. I am writing a paper for my 20th century European history class (ewwww). I get to choose a "topic of my liking". As a physics/math major, I'd really like to tie it into science somehow, but I haven't the foggiest idea how. If it were just history, it'd be easy, I could just talk about the "quantum revolution". But it has to tie into European history somehow, and frankly I don't know quite how to do it. I also considered writing on the impact of Communism on the scientific revolution, but I need ten sources, which would be difficult.

Please, throw at me your ideas!
 
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  • #2
There's some interesting history tied in with Einstein's life and the period between World War I and leading up to World War II. Something along those lines might be worth considering.

An excerpt from Einstein's Wiki page:

"He was visiting the United States when Adolf Hitler came to power in 1933 and, being Jewish, did not go back to Germany, where he had been a professor at the Berlin Academy of Sciences. He settled in the U.S., becoming an American citizen in 1940.[9] On the eve of World War II, he endorsed a letter to President Franklin D. Roosevelt alerting him to the potential development of "extremely powerful bombs of a new type" and recommending that the U.S. begin similar research. This eventually led to what would become the Manhattan Project. Einstein supported defending the Allied forces, but largely denounced the idea of using the newly discovered nuclear fission as a weapon. Later, with the British philosopher Bertrand Russell, Einstein signed the Russell–Einstein Manifesto, which highlighted the danger of nuclear weapons. Einstein was affiliated with the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, New Jersey, until his death in 1955."

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Albert_Einstein

edit - That may not exactly fit the bill for 'European' history, but it could be made to.
 
  • #3
Consider the Jewish physicists who had to flee from Europe because of the rise of Naziism. Einstein is the most famous example. Another is Niels Bohr whose mother was Jewish; after Germany occupied Denmark, he became subject to arrest and had to escape to Sweden by being smuggled in a boat.
 
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  • #4
Interesting that you guys both chose related topics. So for my paper, I'd like to examine the effects of the Holocaust on scientific progress. I should probably have three facets to my argument. So far, I have

1) Nazi experimentation
2) Expulsion of Jews from universities
3) the institution of medical ethics in the Nuremberg trials.Thoughts?
 
  • #5
You could mention the "Space race" between Soviet Russia and the US during the Cold War days.
You could also talk about Fritz Haber and his involvement in chemical warfare, but he was a chemist, not a physicist.
If you wish to include mathematicians as well, you could talk about Alan Turing and the decryption of the Enigma.
 
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  • #6
Are you looking for how physics ties into 20th century European history, or science in general? The latter connection is much stronger. You say:
samnorris93 said:
I also considered writing on the impact of Communism on the scientific revolution,
and that's not just about physics, it's about the entire scientific revolution.

It's also backwards, and not just because the scientific revolution preceded the 20th-century instantiations of communism. Much of 20th-century European history was driven by three ideologies (nationalist fascism, collectivist communism, secular democracy) competing to fill the gap created when the enlightenment and the scientific revolution displaced the old order. All three claimed to be supported by science and cherry-picked shamelessly from then-contemporary science to support this claim.
 
  • #7
samnorris93 said:
tie it into science somehow
Theoretical? Applied? Misapplied? Wegener. Von Braun. Lysenko. Beria and the Soviet nuclear program. Radar. Operations research and the Battle of the Atlantic.
 
  • #8
Radar, sonar, radio communication, colossus.
 
  • #9
I'd start with Plank and end with Higgs.
 
  • #10
samnorris93 said:
Good evening,

I am in a bit of a predicament. I am writing a paper for my 20th century European history class (ewwww). I get to choose a "topic of my liking". As a physics/math major, I'd really like to tie it into science somehow, but I haven't the foggiest idea how. If it were just history, it'd be easy, I could just talk about the "quantum revolution". But it has to tie into European history somehow, and frankly I don't know quite how to do it. I also considered writing on the impact of Communism on the scientific revolution, but I need ten sources, which would be difficult.

Please, throw at me your ideas!
Coming from a former communist country I second the idea you mentioned here, namely the negative (overall) impact of the communist ideology on the development of Science. Lisenkoism is just one aspect here. For example when I was younger I skimmed through some books from the communist era (from the end of 1950s early 1960s, I do not remember now the titles, translations from Russian or German) where the Big Bang theory for example was considered a dead end and Copenhagen interpretation of QM was at best deemed 'metaphysical, idealist' thus inadequate (deBroglie-Bohm-Vigier more realist approaches were given basically all attention). All these because Lenin thought that the Universe was eternal and realism the only sensible philosophy in Science ('Materialism and Empirio-Criticism' by Lenin and other political dogmas were taken as the literal Truth). One needs to expand the subject no doubt (presenting also the positive parts as well) but I think it is one worth pursuing.
 
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Related to How can physics tie into 20th century European history?

1. How did the development of atomic physics impact the events of 20th century European history?

The discovery of atomic physics in the early 20th century had a significant impact on European history. The development of nuclear weapons during World War II and the subsequent Cold War between the United States and Soviet Union greatly influenced international relations and the balance of power in Europe.

2. What role did Einstein's theory of relativity play in 20th century European history?

Einstein's theory of relativity, which transformed our understanding of space and time, had a profound impact on 20th century European history. It laid the foundation for the development of modern physics and led to advancements in technology, including the development of nuclear power and space exploration.

3. How did the rise of quantum mechanics influence European society in the 20th century?

The development of quantum mechanics in the early 20th century revolutionized our understanding of the physical world and had a wide-reaching impact on European society. It led to advancements in technology, such as the invention of the transistor and the development of modern computing, which have had a significant impact on our daily lives.

4. How did the study of electromagnetism contribute to the events of 20th century European history?

The study of electromagnetism, which includes the development of radio and television technology, played a critical role in 20th century European history. These advancements in communication technology had a significant impact on politics, culture, and the spread of information throughout Europe and the world.

5. What impact did the discovery of subatomic particles have on 20th century European history?

The discovery of subatomic particles, such as electrons and protons, in the early 20th century fundamentally changed our understanding of the building blocks of matter. This led to advancements in fields such as medicine and energy production, which greatly impacted European society and economy during the 20th century.

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