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Rutherford, the Cavendish Laboratory and the Solvay Councils

  • Jeff Hughes
Chapter
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Part of the Science Networks · Historical Studies book series (SNHS, volume 22)

Abstract

The Solvay Councils have played a key role in the development of the institutional and intellectual geography of physics in the twentieth century. With other institutions, such as the Nobel Institute and the Rockefeller Foundation, they played a decisive role in determining the scientific and professional values of physics in the early decades of the century. The Solvay Councils were central in establishing a new kind of physics and a new way of doing physics by defining key problems and shared concerns among an élite, self-selecting international group of physicists. To these men and women, with different backgrounds, and often different ways of thinking about nature, the Solvay Councils allowed discussion of some of the most pressing problems of the new physics which gradually unfolded in the first half of the century, and in so doing helped shape the discipline of physics as we have come to know it. Just a cursory glance at the list of topics discussed shows the close connection between the Councils and the leading edge of physics research: 1911, quanta; 1913, the structure of matter; 1921, the electron theory of matter and atomic structure again; 1924, problems of metallic conduction; 1927, electrons and photons, including the new quantum mechanics and its interpretation; 1930, magnetic properties of matter, including the application of quantum mechanics to magnetic phenomena; 1933, the structure and properties of atomic nuclei, including the then recent discoveries of the neutron, the deuteron, the positron and the artificial disintegration of the atom, all leading to the development of the new field of nuclear physics.1

Keywords

Nobel Prize Atomic Model Modern Physic Rockefeller Foundation Nuclear Model 
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Notes

  1. 1.
    For an overview of the Solvay Congresses in Physics, see J. MEHRA, The Solvay Conferences on Physics: Aspects of the Development of Physics since 1911,D. Reidel, Dordrecht and Boston, 1975. See also P. MARAGE and G. WALLENBORN, Les Conseils Solvay et les Débuts de la Physique Moderne,Brussels, 1995; D.K. BARKAN, The Witches’ Sabbath: The First International Solvay Congress in Physics, Science in Context 6 (1993), pp. 59–82; R.H. STUEWER, The Seventh Solvay Congress: Nuclear Physics at the Crossroads, in A.J. Kox and D.M. Siegel (eds.), No Truth Except in the Details,Kluwer, Dordrecht, 1995, pp. 333–362.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    C. WEINER, A New Site for the Seminar: The Refugees and American Physics in the Thirties, in D. Fleming and B. Bailyn (eds.), The Intellectual Migration: Europe and America, 1930–1960,Harvard University Press, Cambridge (Mass.), 1969, pp. 190–234, esp. p. 192–195.Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    On the history of the Cavendish Laboratory, see J.G. CROWTHER, The Cavendish Laboratory 1874–1974,Macmillan, London, 1974. For more recent re-analyses of the Maxwell and Thomson periods, see S. SCHAFFER, Late Victorian metrology and its instrumentation: a manufactory of Ohms, in R. Bud and S. Cozzens (eds.), Invisible Connections. Instruments, Institutions and Science,SPIE Optical Engineering Press, Bellingham Washington, 1992, pp. 23–56; I. FALCONER, J. J. Thomson and `Cavendish Physics’, in F.A.J.L. James (ed.), The Development of the Laboratory. Essays on the Place of Experiment in Industrial Civilization,Macmillan Press, London, 1989, pp. 104–117.Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    For Rutherford’s career and institution-building at Montreal and Manchester, see D. WILSON, Rutherford. Simple Genius, Hodder and Stoughton, London, 1983.Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    The extent of Rutherford’s Mersenne-like correspondence network can be judged from the comprehensive (but still partial) listing in L. BADASH, Rutherford Correspondence Catalog, American Institute of Physics, New York, 1974.Google Scholar
  6. 6.
    M. Planck to W. Nernst, 11 June 1910, quoted in BARKAN, The Witches’ Sabbath, p. 65–66, on p. 66.Google Scholar
  7. 7.
    E. RUTHERFORD, Conference on the Theory of Radiation, Nature 88 (1911), pp. 82–83, on p. 83. On Rutherford’s commitment to experiment and his legendary antipathy to theory (belied by his remarks about the Solvay meetings), see L. BADASH, Ernest Rutherford and Theoretical Physics, in R. Kargon and P. Achinstein (eds.), Kelvin’s Baltimore Lectures and Modern Theoretical Physics. Historical and Philosophical Perpectives, M.I.T. Press, Cambridge (Mass.) and London, 1987, pp. 349–373.Google Scholar
  8. 8.
    See n.7. In his comments to Bertram Boltwood, Rutherford emphasised only his informal discussions with Marie Curie concerning the radium standard they were then working to develop. See Rutherford to Boltwood, 20 November 1911, in L. BADASH (ed.), Rutherford and Boltwood. Letters on Radioactivity,Yale University Press, New Haven and London, 1969, pp. 257–259. Clearly, the meeting served many purposes.Google Scholar
  9. 9.
    WILSON, Rutherford,p. 263. For Rutherford’s role in disbursing research grants see, for example, Lorentz to Rutherford, 27 February 1913, 26 September 1913, Rutherford papers,Cambridge University Library (hereafter `Rutherford papers’); Rutherford to Lorentz, 29 March 1913, 8 December 1913, 12 January 1914, Lorentz papers,Algemeen Rijksarchief, ‘s Gravenhage, Netherlands (hereafter `Lorentz papers’).Google Scholar
  10. 10.
    Rutherford to Lorentz, 12 January 1914, Rutherford to M. Curie, 17 January 1914, Lorentz papers; M. Curie to Rutherford, 13 January 1914, Rutherford papers. Google Scholar
  11. 11.
    MEHRA, The Solvay Conferences on Physics,p. 76.Google Scholar
  12. 12.
    Rutherford to Boltwood, 20 November 1911, in L. BADASH (ed.), Rutherford and Boltwood. Letters on Radioactivity,p. 257–259, on p. 257.Google Scholar
  13. 13.
    E. RUTHERFORD, International Conference on the Structure of Matter, Nature 92 (1913), p. 347.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. 14.
    Rutherford to Curie, 17 January 1914, Lorentz papers.Google Scholar
  15. 15.
    Lorentz to Rutherford, 18 February 1919, 2 January 1920, Rutherford papers; Rutherford to Lorentz, 5 March 1919, 19 August 1919, 11 January 1920, 9 March 1920, Lorentz papers. Google Scholar
  16. 16.
    Institut International de Chimie Solvay, Premier Conseil de Chimie. Rapports et Discussions, Gauthier-Villars, Paris, 1922; M.J. NYE, Chemical Explanation and Physical Dynamics: Two Research Schools at the First Solvay Chemistry Conferences, 1922–1928, Annals of Science 46 (1989), pp. 461–480.Google Scholar
  17. 17.
    On Soddy, see the collection of essays in G.B. KAUFFMAN (ed.), Frederick Soddy (1877 —1956). Early Pioneer in Radiochemistry, D. Reidel, Dordrecht, Boston and Lancaster, 1986.Google Scholar
  18. 18.
    Lorentz to Rutherford, 29 January 1924, Rutherford papers; Rutherford to Lorentz, 3 February 1924, Lorentz papers. In the event, neither Darwin nor Fowler was invited, the British delegates being W. H. Bragg, F.A. Lindemann, O.W. Richardson, W. Rosenhain and Rutherford himself.Google Scholar
  19. 19.
    See R.H. STUEWER, Rutherford’s Satellite Model of the Nucleus, Historical Studies in the Physical Sciences 16 (1986), pp. 321–352; idem,Artificial Disintegration and the Cambridge-Vienna Controversy, in P. Achinstein and O. Hannaway (eds.), Observation, Experiment and Hypothesis in Modern Physical Science,M.I.T. Press, Cambridge (Mass.) and London, 1985, pp. 239–307; WILSON, Rutherford. Google Scholar
  20. 20.
    R.H. STUEWER, Nuclear Physics at the Crossroads.Google Scholar

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© Springer Basel AG 1999

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  • Jeff Hughes

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