In the gardens of international research centers like CERN in Europe or Fermi-Lab in the US you can see the »Big Bubble Chambers« – huge iron tanks with glass portholes. They are several meters in width and height and often bear the name of giants or monsters. In the 1960s, with bubbles growing in their bellies, they portrayed the micro-world in the form of appearing stars and fleeting tracks. We hear that at their time these instruments were the center of exciting research concerning the fundamental understanding of nature.
Which were the reasons for this excitement? What exactly saw the scientists crowding around the portholes in order to watch inside? How could they state that they were observing the »fundamental particles and forces of Nature«? Why did they give their instruments the names of giants or myths? And how was their job related to other events happening in the world of the 1960s?
In the seminar we will attempt to answer these questions. We will investigate how the knowledge developed around these machines alimented dreams on a totally different scale far beyond the investigation of elementary particles. This knowledge bordered issues of military security, international relationships during the Cold War and reconstruction of the history of the planet and of the universe. On the other hand, we will see how bubble chamber experiments contributed to the understanding of nature on the theoretical level: in particular, we will see how a concept usually common to different domains of knowledge – symmetry – has been used for modeling particles and their interactions and crafting what today is called the »Standard Model of Physics«.
Beside this monumental dimension, we will use historical and home-made experiments, pictures and maps to reflect on the issues of visualization and objectivity, observation and exploration in science and other endeavors. We will constantly pay attention to the role that linguistic expressions not belonging to the traditional vocabulary of a discipline can play in representing and shaping in-progress ideas in a new research field.
The course will end with a gallery of posters where the students – by means of a chosen »name of a giant« – will connect their own field of expertise to the seminar.