Associate 1997-98

Lillian Hoddeson


Scientific Creativity: The Life and Science of John Bardeen

During her Center appointment, Professor Hoddeson will complete a study of scientific creativity focused on the life and work of John Bardeen (1908-1991), one of the world's most creative and influential scientists. His invention with Walter Brattain of the first transistor sparked the information age; his development of the theory of superconductivity, with J. Robert Schrieffer and Leon Cooper, brought about a revolution within the subfield of solid-state physics that he helped to create. Bardeen is the only person ever to receive two Nobel Prizes in the same field.

Professor Hoddeson's primary aim is to explore and present Bardeen's life and work in a book-length account that addresses an issue of continuing interest in the history of science: the nature of scientific creativity. The book will explore how this modest theoretical physicist managed to solve key problems in physics and engineering that had baffled many of the world's best scientists for decades. Part of the answer is in his pragmatic approach to solving problems. In positioning himself in science, Bardeen stood characteristically with one foot in fundamental research and the other firmly planted in practical experience. A union of pure and applied science can be traced throughout Bardeen's career. A number of historians have noted the empirical tenor of American physics since the Second World War (among them, Paul Forman, Silvan Schweber, and Andrew Pickering), but our understanding of this current will remain clouded unless scholars tie it to the life experiences of major contributors.

This study explores both personal and social influences. The biography also sheds light on: the emergence of solid state physics in America from 1933 on; the growth of multi-disciplinary team research (even in "small science"); and the structuring of environments of industrial and academic research to motivate scientific productivity.