Thursday, January 3, 2013

Documentation on History of science talk, Jan 3, Oregon State Valley Library

Update: Documents for talk can be found here
Here is the divertisement for my talk followed by the abstract below:

Please mark your calendars for our next Resident Scholar Lecture, to be delivered by Clarissa Lee of Duke University on Thursday, January 3rd.  Lee’s talk, “Experiments, Fictions, and the Question of Science-Modeling in Speculative Physics,” will begin at 3:00 PM  in the Autzen Classroom, on the second floor of the Valley Library.


Clarissa Lee is a Ph. D. candidate in the Literature Program at Duke.  She has served as Resident Scholar in the OSU Libraries Special Collections & Archives Research Center since December 4th, and her presentation will include a description of her use of the History of Atomic Energy Collection, Nuclear Science Technical Reports Collection and Ava Helen and Linus Pauling Papers (specifically Linus Pauling’s vast collection of science fiction periodicals) in developing her ideas on speculative physics.

Experiments, Fictions, and the Question of Science-Modeling in Speculative Physics.
My presentation draws on my research at the Oregon State Special Collections in the History of Science and on the discussion of the larger project that has brought me to the Collections. The topic of my dissertation, currently entitled Speculative Physics, looks at how acts of speculation is performed at the experimental and theoretical level within particle physics; as well as the gaps, points of disconnection, and connection between experiment and theory. In trying to work out what speculation entails, I return to the prehistory of particle physics, to earlier chain of physical epistemological developments in areas such as electricity, radioactivity and nuclear physics, especially in terms of their experimental-instrumental design and the formalistic developments that drive them forward. This is particularly important for the first and second part of my dissertation and will supplement the final leg of fieldwork I hope to perform next year at CERN and probably also at Fermilab, depending on time and funding. At a less experimentally related, but more teleological level, I will also explore the relationship of specific developments in particle physics to astrophysics and cosmology (with a nod towards the space science of the 1960s) especially over questions of space-time and locality of the extra-terrestrial objects (as well as relationship to String theory and hidden dimensions). For the purpose of the final chapter of my dissertation, I am interested in unearthing some early examples of computational simulations in the form of the Monte Carlo especially as nuclear physics begin to move towards an examination of the composition of the nucleons and how that connects to current-day Monte Carlo work.

In this talk, I will be discussing the key materials I have unearthed in the Special Collections that has helped me shape some tangible evidence to the arguments I am making about the freedom and constraints involved in physics speculation, especially through some of the physics problems faced by the scientists in moving between theoretical prediction and experiment. Most of the materials I am looking at are from between the 1950s and 1970s in terms of the atomic energy collection, especially certain key reports from the Argonne Lab and the Atomic Energy Commission about specific nuclear reactions, write-ups about the instruments, as well as lectures given by visiting physicists, the latter to gauge the intellectual climate of that time and the issues that were formative to that period. I also look at selected materials from CERN through the various symposia that took place place, such as the ones at Rochester, so as to connect the history of the earlier discovery made to the subsequent planning and building of the Large Hadron Collider.

As my doctoral dissertation is also interested in theorizing and constructing models of fiction, specifically for its third chapter, through the use of speculative science fiction as well as speculative science fact for the purpose of extending the imaginative realm of the scientific real, I am also examining some fictional and creative non-fiction works from the Special Collections, especially Linus Pauling’s collection of Analog Science Fact and Fiction, as well as excerpts of fictional materials from the Atomic Energy collection. With the illustration of some sample fictions and speculative non-fiction, the second part of my talk will concentrate on trying to formulate some preliminary ideas concerning how fictionalizing can be use as a way for creatively modeling existing scientific ideas, theories and facts that aid scientists in pondering about more speculative areas of science, while also using scientific material to deal imaginatively with interdisciplinary studies of science and the humanities. The question of language, and the epistemological trade between science and the humanities, will also be addressed.

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