Videnskabshistorisk Selskab


Dr Eugenio Bertozzi,
Deutsches Museum, Humboldt-Universität, Università di Bologna:

A special trajectory among the many: The biography of the Wilson cloud chamber as an instrument for teaching

Wilson“The Wilson cloud chamber” introduced by the Scottish physicist Charles Thomson Rees Wilson at the Cavendish Laboratory in Cambridge in 1911 has been one of the most significant instruments of 20th Century physics. For the first time, the radioactive emission imperceptible to the senses became visible: when a radioactive source was placed inside the chamber, trails of water droplets formed along the trajectories followed by the emitted particles. The instrument, welcomed by Ernst Rutherford as the “The most wonderful experiment in the world”, earned Wilson the Nobel Prize in 1927 and played a central role in capital discoveries such as the experimental confirmation of the existence of the anti-matter in 1932. Surprisingly, after more than one hundred years, the cloud chamber is still on the stage of research as “core” of the experiment CLOUD currently in-progress at the CERN and focused on the study of atmospheric physics and climate science.
Coud ChamberIn this talk I will look at the Wilson instrument not as a device to be perfected for pursuing new researches but as one to be adapted for teaching physics in schools and colleges: in other words, I will retrace the special trajectory which brought a “milestone” of physics research to enter, adapt and gradually stabilise within the context of education, becoming a “classic” within the usual set of instruments that nowadays can be found in a modern school laboratory. Along this complex process of stabilization, the invention of smart strategies for re-creating a delicate experiment in the classroom, the creativity in using the same device for explaining different aspects of physics fitting with a changeable school curriculum and the beliefs of researchers, designers and teachers on “how a teaching instrument should be made” and, ultimately, “how physics should be taught” are the main insights which will be offered and discussed in the talk.

tirsdag den 28. marts, kl. 17

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