Properties and phenomena: Basic plasma physics and fusion research in Postwar America

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I review the changing conceptions of basic physics that the U.S. plasma-physics community put forward in postwar America. I give special attention to the tense relationship between fusion research and the more general study of plasmas in astrophysics, space science, and industry.Although fusion research often led to results that were regarded as basic plasma physics, its dominating influence tended to weaken other plasma work, as becomes evident when I compare the public statements and professional fortunes of plasma scientists during the 1960s, when fusion research experienced a downturn, with those of the 1970s, when fusion research flourished. I also show that the plasmaphysics community's conceptions of basic physics were not highly regarded or easily understood by science administrators and the general physics community. To make this point, I contrast two general ideas of basic physics: the Big Questions conception and the Properties and Phenomena conception.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)396-437
Number of pages42
JournalPhysics in Perspective
Issue number4
StatePublished - Dec 2008

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • History
  • General Physics and Astronomy


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