PER Seminar - 2/17 (Joe Martin)


Wednesday, February 17, 2016 - 3:00pm to 4:00pm


1400 Biomedical and Physical Sciences

What Does it Mean for Physics to Be Fundamental?
Joseph D. Martin, Lyman Briggs College MSU,

In physics, "fundamental" is often synonymous with "important." Examining how physicists have thought about the nature of fundamental physics therefore allows historians to trace controversies that had deep and enduring consequences for the way the field was organized. This talk describes how disagreements over the nature of fundamental research became a bone of contention between condensed matter physicists and high energy physicists as these two fields competed for funding, influence, and prestige through the second half of the twentieth century. I follow changes in conceptions of fundamental research from the end of World War II, when the physics community expanded rapidly in both population and topical scope, through the end of the twentieth century, which was punctuated by high-profile debates over the merits of the Superconducting Super Collider. This investigation shows that deep commitments about the nature of fundamental physics, and the disagreements they caused, had widespread consequences for the missions of particular research installations, for the internal organization of the field, and for how physics interfaced with the larger political context in the United States.