The Bubble Chamber – a place for thinking about science and society

Bubble chamber at Fermilab
Bubble chamber at Fermilab National Accelerator Laboratory ©Bruce Marlin

In the 1950s and 60s, bubble chambers were cutting-edge scientific apparatuses for physical researchers in North America.  One of the first large-scale devices created to observe the interaction of charged particles, bubble chambers were novel and highly-intricate feats of engineering.  Their realization required hundreds of different kinds of specialists to apply their knowledge in new, integrated ways.  The various specialized bits of knowledge possessed by these specialists, along with their attendant crafts and technologies, all took on new applications and orientations in their common endeavour to construct bubble chambers, a task ultimately aimed at providing an experimental basis for modern particle physics.

Because bubble chambers were constructed by the mutually reinforcing intellectual collaboration of a variety of different specialists, bubble chambers serve as a nice metaphor for what we hope to achieve with this blog.  The Bubble Chamber is run by a group of historians and philosophers of science whose interests and specializations vary widely, giving us all an opportunity to learn from each other and integrate our knowledge in new and fruitful ways.  Our main hope for the blog, however, is that it will find readers from outside our academic disciplines.  The idea is that we, as historians and philosophers of science, can create new applications for our specialized knowledge by bringing it to bear on social, political, and policy issues of general interest in ways that engage with a variety of people, from the general public to business people to working scientists.  We hope to find such applications because we believe our society as a whole could do with a better, more nuanced understanding of science and its place in our modern world.  To develop such an understanding, we all need to find new, integrated ways of bringing our specialized knowledge and experience together.  This blog will be a forum for such intellectual cross-pollination and collaboration, where a wide variety of people can be exposed to the socially relevant work of historians and philosophers of science, and vice versa.

Just as the construction of bubble chambers was a task aimed at providing an experimental basis for modern particle physics, the links we hope to forge through The Bubble Chamber are ultimately aimed at providing for historians and philosophers of science.  By working on issues of general public interest at the intersection of science and society, and on issues of special social and political relevance, The Bubble Chamber is part of an emerging trend within the history and philosophy of science that aims to make our discipline more socially relevant.  There is, for example, a public lecture series in Canada aimed at engaging the public in some of the intellectual issues found in science studies; there is also a forthcoming volume of a popular journal – Synthese – encouraging historians and philosophers of science to become more socially and politically engaged in substantive ways.  Substantive public engagement with history and philosophy of science, it is thought, will not only be good for society; it will also be good for the history and philosophy of science.

Thus, our primary aim is to use history and philosophy of science to make The Bubble Chamber an exciting, engaging, and (most importantly) socially relevant blog for a general audience of readers.  We hope this will help general readers develop a more nuanced understanding of science and technology, and help historians and philosophers of science deploy their skills and knowledge on socially relevant issues in a public forum.  We will be offering posts on a wide variety of science-related topics, so check back regularly to ensure that you don’t miss out on something of special interest to you.  And please, feel free to offer comments, especially if we ever seem to not be living up to the standard we have set for ourselves.


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