Essays on Science and SocietyBEYOND THE IVORY TOWER

What Kind of Science Is Experimental Physics?

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Science  01 Oct 2004:
Vol. 306, Issue 5693, pp. 60-61
DOI: 10.1126/science.1093598

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In his essay, Sibum discusses historical and epistemological issues of the establishment of experimental physics as an academic discipline, focusing on the artificial technological character of experiment. From the mid-18th to the early 20th century, this kind of scientific experience challenged the still dominant epistemological divide between knowing and doing. Several generations of physicists were required to free the "art of experiment" from its epistemological stigma and to position experimental knowledge within academia. Around 1900, this interventionist character of experimental physics--particularly in microphysics--changed the physicists' experiential basis substantially, thereby inducing an increasing self-reflexivity that even shaped the formation of different types of theoretical physics.