This study engages with the impact of modern technology on experimental physicists. It reveals how the ever-increasing scale and complexity of apparatus has distanced physicists from the very science which drew them into experimenting, and has fragmented microphysics into different technical traditions. At the beginning of this century, physics was usually done by a lone researcher who put together experimental apparatus on a benchtop. Now experiments are frequently larger than a city block, and experimental physicists lead very different lives - programming computers, working with industry, co-ordinating vast teams of scientists and engineers, and playing politics. The author describes how, as a result of these changes, the necessity for teamwork in operating multimillion-dollar machines has created dynamic "trading zones", where instrument makers, theorists and experimentalists meet, share knowledge, and co-ordinate the extraordinarily diverse pieces of the culture of modern microphysics - work, machines, evidence and argument.
Peter Galison is Mallinckrodt Professor of the History of Science and of Physics at Harvard University. He is author of How Experiments End, published by the University of Chicago Press, and coeditor of The Disunity of Science: Contexts, Boundaries, and Power.