Thesis ID: CBB169946259

The Carnegie Image Tube Committee and the Development of Electronic Imaging Devices in Astronomy, 1953-1976 (2019)


This dissertation examines the efforts of the Carnegie Image Tube Committee (CITC), a group created by Vannevar Bush and composed of astronomers and physicists, who sought to develop a photoelectric imaging device, generally called an image tube, to aid astronomical observations. The Carnegie Institution of Washington’s Department of Terrestrial Magnetism coordinated the CITC, but the committee included members from observatories and laboratories across the United States. The CITC, which operated from 1954 to 1976, sought to replace direct photography as the primary means of astronomical imaging. Physicists, who gained training in electronics during World War II, led the early push for the development of image tubes in astronomy. Vannevar Bush’s concern for scientific prestige led him to form a committee to investigate image tube technology, and postwar federal funding for the sciences helped the CITC sustain development efforts for a decade. During those development years, the CITC acted as a mediator between the astronomical community and the image tube producers but failed to engage astronomers concerning various development paths, resulting in a user group without real buy-in on the final product. After a decade of development efforts, the CITC designed an image tube, which Radio Corporation of American manufactured, and, with additional funding from the National Science Foundation, the committee distributed to observatories around the world. While excited about the potential of electronic imaging, few astronomers used the Carnegie-developed device regularly. Although the CITC’s efforts did not result in an overwhelming adoption of image tubes by the astronomical community, examining the design, funding, production, and marketing of the Carnegie image tube shows the many and varied processes through which astronomers have acquired new tools. Astronomers’ use of the Carnegie image tube to acquire useful scientific data illustrates factors that contribute to astronomers’ adoption or non-adoption of those new tools.

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Authors & Contributors
Orchiston, Wayne
Slee, Bruce
Steinberg, Jean-Louis
Akabane, Kenji
Arsac, Jacques
Bailer-Jones, Daniela M.
Journal of Astronomical History and Heritage
Centaurus: International Magazine of the History of Mathematics, Science, and Technology
Historical Studies in the Natural Sciences
Historical Studies in the Physical and Biological Sciences
History of Photography
Journal for the History of Astronomy
ArtDeCiel Pub.
MIT Press
University of New South Wales Press
Penguin Books
Radio astronomy
Astronomical observatories
Photography, astronomical
Scientific apparatus and instruments
Christiansen, Wilbur Norman
Bolton, John Gatenby
Bracewell, Ronald N.
Kepler, Johannes
Lovell, Alfred Charles Bernard
Mills, Bernard
Time Periods
20th century
19th century
20th century, late
21st century
United States
Great Britain
École Normale Supérieure, Paris
Harvard University
Lick Observatory
Nuffield Radio Astronomy Laboratories, Jodrell Bank
Sydney Observatory
National Radio Astronomy Observatory (U.S.)

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