TU Berlin

Institute of History and Philosophy of Science, Technology, and LiteratureKarin Pelte MA

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Karin Pelte MA


Doctoral Candidate

Research project "Concepts at Work. The dynamics of scientific concepts in the studies on multiple and interacting galaxies (1925-1980)" (DFG-funded)

Room: H 2524

Secr.: H 23




German Research Foundation (DFG) Project „Concepts at Work. The dynamics of scientific concepts in the studies on multiple and interacting galaxies (1925-1980)”

Project abstract

The project proposes the thorough investigation of the dynamics of a central, yet to this day debated concept of astrophysics – the “galaxy” – in the context of the long term development (c1925-1980) of one of its instigating research strands: the study of multiple and interacting galaxies. Highly heterogeneous yet limited in terms of number of researchers, galaxy studies and their various branches emerging alongside with and after E.P. Hubble have so far been largely overlooked by the history of science. The analysis of this specific strand promises to uncover crucial aspects of the fundamental change in cosmology in this period, in which galaxies turned from stationary island universes and measuring points of a mapping science into 'laboratories' of an 'experimental' science. The project's main focus on the underlying networks of concepts put to work by the pertaining research collective constitutes an innovative approach in the historical study of research dynamics in modern astrophysics. Often thought of as a collection of unexpected, serendipitous discoveries based on technological innovation rather than theoretical predictions, concepts – as for example the “neutron star” or “black hole” – have come to be seen by the astrophysicists themselves as the only constants in this knowledge production. Aimed at a critical reassessment of this view, the project intends to explore the latent readjustments of the network of concepts by members of the research collective in their scientific communication and how these allowed for the integration and co-existence of the sometimes strongly diverging research outlooks before a more cohesive activity took shape in the context of international cooperations of extragalactic astronomy in the 1980s. Exploiting the comparative theory of science of Ludwik Fleck this historical study will contribute in the more general investigation of how astrophysical facts come into being and develop.


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