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Title: Settler physics in Australia and Cambridge 1850-1950
Author: Dean, K. J.
Awarding Body: University of Cambridge
Current Institution: University of Cambridge
Date of Award: 2004
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This thesis examines the circulation of physics between Australia and Cambridge from 1850 to 1950, arguing that scientific knowledge was produced through this very process of circulation. Four aspects of the circulation of knowledge are investigated; technology, scientific roles, public science and scientific discovery. The thesis begins with a discussion of telegraphy as a technology of settlement in relation to the Overland Telegraph between Adelaide and Darwin, completed under Charles Todd’s leadership in 1872. This offers a new perspective on telegraphy and Empire: the cross-cultural context of the Overland Telegraph suggests how central Australia was colonised through accumulation and exchange of knowledge and how the limit of telegraphic coordination were reached. New attempt at coordination through the development of electrical technology and theory are then discussed in the case of the rural hermitage of Tasmanian mathematical physicist, Alexander McAulay. The concept of technological settlement is extended to the discussion of early twentieth century hydroelectrification that created naturalistic landscapes while transforming land use. This created overlapping spaces for physics that encapsulated competing environmental and industrial values. From this hermetic landscape McAulay challenged Cambridge mathematical physics to adopt his preferred form of vector calculus, quaternions, previously rejected during his undergraduate years in Cambridge in the early 1880s. Imperial circulation created new spaces for the acceptance of new knowledge. The travels of the New South Wales experimental physicist, Richard Threlfall, shaped a new identity for experimental physics in Australia and prepared Cambridge physics for the reception of this persona. Between 1884 and 1897 Cambridge seemed transiently bereft of personnel who were able convincingly to perform the new physics that head of the Cavendish Physical Laboratory, JJ Thomson, tried to make routine. Threlfall combined the requisite performances in chemistry and physics, demonstration and measurement, into a professional framework. He Anglicized German research models for a New South Wales audience and conducted institutional development to this end when Australasia was becoming pivotal to projects in imperial defence and to Cambridge science. The institutionalisation of Australasian career models in Cambridge physics is then discussed through the careers of Ernest Rutherford and Thomas Laby. Adept in the crossing of boundaries, the pair contributed to the reform of Cambridge physics through their definition of heroic and routine career models emulated throughout the Empire. These models were deployed to realise Thomson’s experimental program.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available