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Lecture 12

NATS 1775 Lecture Notes - Lecture 12: Vannevar Bush, James Bryant Conant, Karl Taylor Compton

Natural Science
Course Code
NATS 1775
Vera Pavri

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The Rise of “Big Science Projects”
- Interwar period (between WWI and WII) set foundation for new era of “big science”
projects that will become a staple of WWII and post war period. What is Big Science?
According to Historians Ciesla & Trischler:
A. One project that is often based around a single apparatus; fusion of different
scientific-technical disciplines
B. Extensive and intensive use of both financial and human resources
C. Projects are financed by the state or military institutions
- Money to try and fail
D. Projects are short, middle, or long-term but are expected to produce concrete
results they were paid for so they were used
E. Industries conduct both basic and applied research
- Basic: scientific research, theory
- Applied: tech, knowledge of world around
F. Political and social goals are stated as justification for the development of certain
G. Political goals are combined with scientists having some autonomy in setting
work goals
- Clashes between science and military
The Roots of Big Science The US Prepares itself for another War
- One of the leading science policy advisors in the US was Vannevar Bush Chair of
National Advisory Committee on Aeronautics
- Prior to the US’ entry into the war, he realized Nazi threat and did not think US
was adequately equipped to handle Germany’s advanced air force
- Why was he so worried? With rise of Nazi party, Germany had starting ignoring the
military restrictions placed on them from the Treaty of Versailles
- They started building up the military forces once more and paid special attention
to improvements in aviation and tanks
- Part of the reason for this is because they wanted to avoid the mistakes they had
made in WWI (trench warfare)
- The result was new and very effective military strategy called “blitzkrieg” which
used superior tanks and planes to bombard enemy into quick submission on
ground and in air
- Growing concerns about Nazi advanced technology and a desire to be better prepared for
a new world war led to the formation of the National Defense Research Council in 1940
- It became a branch of the Office of Scientific Research and Development (OSRD)
in 1941
- Bush becomes chair of OSRD and members included top figures from industry and
academia including: Frank Jewett (President, NAS); James Conant (chemist and
President of Harvard); Karl Compton (President, MIT)
- These individuals were joined by members of army, navy and air force
- From the start, this group moved away from relying on individual efforts in producing
technologies for war; formed separate inventor’s council

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- Instead, organization awarded contracts to corporations and institutions with
proven track record in productive research
- total spent on Research and Development by OSRD: 337M; non-corporate institutions
that benefited included MIT, Cal Tech, Harvard, Columbia, UC, John Hopkins
- excludes atomic bomb research
- Corps: Western Electric (manufacturing arm of AT&T), Research Construction
Corporation, GE, RCA, Westinghouse, Remington Rand, Eastman Kodak
- OSRD gave money to “technologies of the future” including radar and computers
- It was also enthusiastic about the new field of electronics
- Combining industrial and educational resources under military umbrella will become
foundation for future of US technology
- military-industrial complex (term coined during Cold War): science has increasingly
bigger role in society; interdependence of science and technology; increasing demands
for more money, individuals and instruments for research, state use of research
Civil Aviation
- Airplane technology improved during interwar period
- Examples include water cooled engines being replaced by air-cooled engines and
material changes as planes were increasingly built using metals instead of wood
- Benefits included cheaper planes that were lighter and could fly faster
- Changes to plane wing flaps also allowed heavier and more powerful planes to land
- US companies like Boeing and Douglas relied on military support (US Navy) during
interwar period to support their research and development
- Technology designed for military was then used for civilian purposes
- Commercial or civil aviation required following: development of airports, chartered
airways, safety laws, weather service, beacons for night flights
- Commercial aviation in place by 1920s but only takes off in 1930s; predominant use of
planes until this time was for mail
- Many US companies like American, TWA, Delta, Northwest and United were initially a
branch of an airplane manufacturing entity; separated because of anti-trust laws in US in
- Passenger driven aviation aided by development of Douglas DC-3 in 1936 as it now cost
¼ what it did to carry passengers in 1929
Jet Engine Technology
- Jet engine technology development is a good example of the increasing trend to “big
- Research started on jet engines in 1930s
- While long range bombers developed for war eventually used for civilian flights because
of lower costs, it was hard to make them go faster
- By interwar period, planes could go as fast as 440 miles an hour, but greater speeds
impossible because propellers cannot withstand pressure (would break off)
- Design of jet engine prefigured in water turbines that produce electricity
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