Department of the History of Science
Director, Collection of Historical Scientific Instruments
The central component of Peter Galison's work involves the exploration of twentieth century microphysics (atomic, nuclear, particle physics). In particular, he examines physics as a closely interconnected set of scientific subcultures: experimenters, instrument makers, and theorists. For example, in How Experiments End (Chicago, 1987), he examined the ways in which experimenters come to the decision that they have an effect, not an artifact of the apparatus or environment. What role does theory play in the establishment of data reduction strategies, in triggering, or in the experimental set-up itself? How do large groups decide something is real? More recently, he has been interested in the long-standing competition between image-producing instruments such as bubble chambers, cloud chambers, and nuclear emulsions on one side, and the "logic" devices such as counters, spark chambers, and wire chambers on the other. Image and Logic: A Material Culture of Microphysics (Chicago, 1997) examines this duality and seeks to locate specific experimental technologies in the wider scientific and nonscientific world. Professor Galison is now turning to a history of postwar quantum field theory, in which he views QFT as a "trading zone" between different domains of physics (e.g. particle cosmology, mathematics, condensed matter physics).
On the side, he has tried to examine links between the history of science and neighboring fields - how, for example, historians of science and historians of art share methods and strategies.