Drawing Theories Apart: The Dispersion of Feynman Diagrams in Postwar Physics

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9780226422664: Drawing Theories Apart: The Dispersion of Feynman Diagrams in Postwar Physics

Winner of the 2007 Pfizer Prize from the History of Science Society. Feynman diagrams have revolutionized nearly every aspect of theoretical physics since the middle of the twentieth century. Introduced by the American physicist Richard Feynman (1918-88) soon after World War II as a means of simplifying lengthy calculations in quantum electrodynamics, they soon gained adherents in many branches of the discipline. Yet as new physicists adopted the tiny line drawings, they also adapted the diagrams and introduced their own interpretations. Drawing Theories Apart traces how generations of young theorists learned to frame their research in terms of the diagrams—and how both the diagrams and their users were molded in the process.

Drawing on rich archival materials, interviews, and more than five hundred scientific articles from the period, Drawing Theories Apart uses the Feynman diagrams as a means to explore the development of American postwar physics. By focusing on the ways young physicists learned new calculational skills, David Kaiser frames his story around the crafting and stabilizing of the basic tools in the physicist's kit—thus offering the first book to follow the diagrams once they left Feynman's hands and entered the physics vernacular.

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About the Author:

David Kaiser is associate professor in the Program in Science, Technology, and Society and lecturer in the Department of Physics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Review:

"A colorful and readable account of the earliest applications of the diagrammatic technique." (Eugen Merzbacher Physics Today 2006-11-01)

"This is a rich and original contribution to the expanding historical scholarship on the development of scientific tools and practices. Kaiser is one of the few historians to deal with the conceptual equipment of science as a kind of malleable paper tool, showing how Feynman diagrams were refracted through local environments and ultimately transformed. In all, a dazzling piece of work."-Daniel J. Kevles, Yale University
(Daniel J. Kevles, Yale University)

null (Harry Collins, Cardiff University)

null (Ian Hacking, Collège de France, Paris)

"This is surely the definitive study of one of the great ubiquitous tools of modern quantum field theory." (A. I. Solomon Contemporary Physics 2006-01-01)

“Intellectual tools can have profound impacts. Feynman diagrams have greatly improved how theoretical physicists think and, consequently, our understanding of nature. Drawing Theories Apart provides an informative description of how their influence came about.”

(Gordon Kane Science)

"This is a fascinating book., if you are interested in the history, sociology and people of physics. It should be in every physics library." (Bruce H.J. McKellar Australian Physics)

"Kaiser is prodigiously talented in telling the adventure of modern theoretical physics: the richness of the book may impress even the most demanding historians and physicists. Physicists will probably be surprised to learn of so many varieties of Feynman diagrams. Historians will be delighted with the originality of the approach. . . . Everybody will be enchanted by the style of the book: even when (very) difficult physics is presented, it is never boring; it is always luminous and exciting." (Anouk Barberousse International Studies in the Philsophy of Science)

"A colorful and readable account of the earliest applications of the diagrammatic technique. . . . The book comes equipped with a formidable ancillary apparatus of footnotes and appendices and a massive bibliography that alone is worth the price." (Eugen Merzbacher Physics)

"A rich, original and most recommendable contribution to the history of modern science. It skilfully integrates social history with conceptual history, a technical mastery of Feynman diagrams with a broad and novel perspective of the historicity of the diagrams. . . . Drawing Theories Apart will surely be studied by historians, sociologists and philosophers of physics. . . . It has much to offer also to readers with no background in physics." (British Journal of the History of Science)

"A stimulating and readable book that is also accessible to a wider audience. . . . The book is a valuable contribution to the history and philosophy of physics." (Adrian Wuethrich Studies in History and Philosophy of Modern Physics)

"Kaiserer's masterly written book provides a readable account of the role of Feynman's intuitive tools for today's physics." (Gert Roepstorff Zentralblatt Math)

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