Article ID: CBB001421699

The Names of Physics: Plasma, Fission, Photon (2014)


The study of the origin and dissemination of names used in science is a useful but largely uncultivated historiographical method. What I call the etymological approach to the history of science is here illustrated by an examination of three important terms that originated in the 1920s and 1930s and are today as popular as ever. The names “plasma” and “fission” were introduced in physics in 1928 and 1939, respectively, in both cases by borrowing a name that was already firmly established in the biological sciences. The etymology of “photon” is different and more complex. Although it was quickly understood as just a synonym for Einstein's light quantum going back to 1905, when it was originally introduced it was with a different meaning. It can be traced back to 1916, when it was proposed as a unit for the illumination of the retina, and ten years later the name was revived in still another non-Einsteinian context. Apart from examining how the three words first entered physics, I also look at how the physics community initially responded to them.

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Authors & Contributors
Fabrizio Benincasa
Verônica Klepka
Meyer-Spasche, Rita
Dominik Berrens
Giovanni Iorio Giannoli
Gianni Fasano
Physics in Perspective
European Physical Journal H
História da Ciência e Ensino: construindo interfaces
Studies in History and Philosophy of Science
Seventeenth Century
History and Technology
CNR Edizioni
University of Pittsburgh Press
Palgrave Macmillan
Johns Hopkins University Press
Terminology and nomenclature
Nuclear fission
Atomic, nuclear, and particle physics
Bünemann, Oscar
Seaborg, Glenn Theodore
Strassmann, Fritz
Millikan, Robert Andrews
Meitner, Lise
Hahn, Otto
Time Periods
20th century, early
20th century
Early modern
21st century
20th century, late
United States
Central America
South America
Stanford Linear Accelerator Center (SLAC)
Solvay Conferences

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