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Exhibiting sparks of Big Science to the public. Electrostatics, atomic machines and experience of Paris Palais de la Découverte

Abstract : Modern scientific research requires important investments and highly depends on public funding and support. These features have been reinforced during the 20th century with the rise of “Big Science” which required from scientists to convince and to gain support from different stakeholders: policy-makers, industrialists, foundations and general public. Electrostatics played an important role both in the transformation of research scales in physics laboratories and in the presentation of science to the general public. In this paper, we analyze how these changes occurred in France in the 1930s. A turning point in this history was the construction of the Palais de la Découverte (Palace of discovery) in Paris as a Universal Exhibition pavilion and the exhibition of a large electrostatic Van de Graaff machine in its main Hall. This event was the outcome of different histories. First, the development of “atomic machines” designed to provide megavolts to accelerate particles, thus inaugurating “Big Science” laboratories in the thirties, a development promoted in France by Frédéric Joliot- Curie. Second, the movement around Jean Perrin leading to the organization and public funding of French scientific research, with the establishment of an Undersecretary of State for scientific research and the National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS). Third, the birth of a new concept in scientific museology introduced with the Palais de la Découverte: a museum without collections designed to exhibit vivid science and awake scientific vocations.
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Submitted on : Friday, August 28, 2009 - 11:38:27 AM
Last modification on : Thursday, November 18, 2021 - 8:54:10 AM


  • HAL Id : hal-00411635, version 1



Philippe Molinié, Soraya Boudia. Exhibiting sparks of Big Science to the public. Electrostatics, atomic machines and experience of Paris Palais de la Découverte. IEEE Transactions on Dielectrics and Electrical Insulation, Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, 2009, 16, pp. 751-757. ⟨hal-00411635⟩



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