Cal Poly Pomona

History 423

Modern Science in World History


Instructor: Zuoyue Wang                               Office: Building 94, Room 335

Winter Quarter 2014                                      Office Hours: M 11:35am-12:35pm; W9:30-10:30; & apptmt.

Class Time: MW 4-5:50pm                           Classroom: 5-255


Course website:


Course Description: This course examines the development of modern sciences, especially physics and biology, from the second scientific revolution of the late 19th century and early 20th century to the present, and the changing relationship between science and society in this period.  It traces how the rise of quantum and relativity and genetic theories has changed our view of the world and of life, and how Big Science, nuclear weapons, computers, biotechnology, and other applications of modern science have changed the relationship between science and society.  The focus will be on Western Europe and the US, but the course also covers Russia, China, and other countries.  The scientific, philosophical, and social aspects of the second scientific revolution will be explored, as well as the development and control of nuclear weapons, physicists as advisors to government, the rise and fall of Big Science, debates over the internet and genetic engineering, the impact of the end of the Cold War and war on terrorism on science, and the science and politics of climate change. 


What is the History of Science?  History of science, as a field, rose in the post-World War II era as a response to what C. P. Snow called the “Two Cultures” problem: the increasing gap between the humanities and the sciences in understanding each other has often resulted in dangerous misconceptions in regard to science, technology, and public policy.  Now perhaps more than ever a well-educated student in either the humanities or the sciences needs to understand the profound social, political, cultural, and global implications of changes in modern science.  The course is intended to be a bridge across the “Two Cultures” divide as it brings students in both the humanities and the sciences together to explore both the intellectual and social aspects of modern science.


Format: Lectures will be supplemented by discussions, internet sessions, films, and videos.  Professor Wang encourages you to raise questions at any time in class, during his office hours, or via email.  In general, the first half of the course is a bit more technical and involves heavier reading loads than the second half, so you can devote more time to your term paper project later in the quarter.


Learning Objectives: After successfully completing this course, students should be able to demonstrate knowledge and understanding of the major changes in modern science in the world, explain the interactions between science and society, enhance their information literacy, improve their communications skills, both written and oral, and ability to think critically and historically. In short, the course aims to develop “3C”: Clarity (in expression), Creativity (in scholarship), and Critical Thinking (about everything).


General Education (GE) Designations: This course fulfills General Education Area C-4 (Humanities Synthesis) or D-4 (Social Science Synthesis). 


Prerequisites: If you want this course to fulfill your GE C-4 (Humanities) requirement, you will need to have already completed all GE lower-division requirements in Areas A and C.  If you want this course to fulfill your GE D-4 (Social Science) requirement, you will need to have completed all GE lower-division requirements in Areas A and D.  For detail, see University Catalog: (

Knowledge of modern history, physics, and biology beyond your lower-division GE courses is not required but will be helpful.  This is an upper division course that generally should not be taken before you have fulfilled your lower division GE courses or before attaining junior or senior status.


History Majors: This course fits into any of the three core course areas for Track II.


Further Tips: How Do You Succeed in This Class?


Read the Textbooks: They provide the core facts and theories in the class, and therefore it’s most important to “get them done” thoroughly before moving to other sources relevant to the class.  Yes, you can pick up facts on individuals and events from the web, such as wikipedia, which is indeed helpful and you should consult when trying to understand scientific concepts or discoveries, but often such facts come in as isolated pieces of information without the proper context that is developed in the textbooks.  It’s also important to relate your term paper with arguments from the textbooks.  You do not necessarily need to agree with these arguments; in fact the best papers tend to revise the accepted views as represented in the textbooks.  But, whether you agree with the textbooks or not, you need to relate your main argument with theirs, either as a confirmation or as a revision.

Engage in Informal Learning: Read the Los Angeles Times or New York Times or other news publications, listen to NPR, and watch PBS, especially its American Experiences, Frontline, and NOVA programs.  These will help keep you intellectually stimulated and keep you informed of current debates over major political, social, and technological issues, which in turn would help you better understand the dynamics of historical changes in the past.  Pay special attention to the daily Op-Ed pages at the end of the main section of the LAT. The LAT and NYT are available on their websites ( and with some contents for free) and through our library’s Proquest Databases.  Visit a museum and turn in a one-page report on how it relates to this course for extra credit.

Talk to Others about What You Are Learning in the Class: Trying to explain something to someone else will help you better understand what you are trying to explain.  Questions from your audience are usually very helpful in giving a new way of looking at the problem.  Often you will find that you do not quite “get it” yourself, but that’s fine.  This discovery will motivate you to read the texts again or to discuss the problem with your instructor.


Communicate with Your Instructor: Professor Wang encourages you to raise questions at any time in class and to talk to him, in class or in his office during office hours, on any issue related to this class.  You can contact him outside of class via email.


Use Resources on Campus and Work on Your Writing: Make use of reference librarians to help with your research and the Writing Center (Library 2919, phone 909-869-5343) to improve your writing skills.  Go to campus events and lectures.


Required Books Available at Bronco Bookstore:

1.         Barbara Cline, Men Who Made a New Physics

2.         David Cassidy, Einstein and our World

3.         James D. Watson, Double Helix

4.         Michael Frayn, Copenhagen

5.         Lawrence Badash, Scientists and the Development of Nuclear Weapons

6.         William Kelleher Storey, Writing History: A Guide for Students

In addition, there will be online reading assignments.  Two other books are highly recommended for those who want to learn more about the history of modern physics: Banesh Hoffmann, Albert Einstein: Creator and Rebel and Emilio Segre, From X-rays to Quarks: Modern Physicists and Their Discoveries.


The first two books (Cline and Cassidy) are on reserve at the Library with a two-hour checkout period and overnight possibility.  You need to write down the call numbers before getting in line at the Circulation Desk: rbrWAZ 3 for the Cline book and QC16.E5 C37 1995 for the Cassidy book.


Term Paper: You are required to write a paper on a topic related to the class and approved by Prof. Wang in advance.  During the first two weeks of class, try to thumb through the texts to get an overview of the subject we will be studying and think about what topics you would like to write on.  Be aware that topics covered later in the class might interest you more. Try to avoid big, overtly general topics, such as “A History of the Atomic Bomb.”  Instead, try to narrow it down to something like “Albert Einstein and the Atomic Bomb.”  Check out these links and on my website and read our Storey text for further suggestions. You are required to submit and discuss with Prof. Wang a one-page prospectus (a title and a paragraph on your topic) on the term paper by the date specified below.  A preliminary draft of your paper is due in class on Monday during the last week of class.  The completed paper is due on the last day of class.  It should be about 5-8 pages, double-spaced, with 12 point font and one inch margin on all sides, printed on plain paper, stapled at the upper-left corner (no plastic cover or binding please).  You should use footnotes, instead of in-text citations, for the term paper. All writings in this class are evaluated for both grammar and content and there will be discussions of paper drafts later in the quarter.


A good paper will have a compelling beginning, a good survey of existing literature on your subject, a clear thesis statement, supported by a narrative built on a variety of evidence, especially primary sources such as reports in newspapers or magazines, or oral history interviews.  It can describe an event or individual, but should explain how that event or individual does or does not fit in the general themes of this class. See sample paper on “Beyond Photograph 51” (on Rosalind Franklin’s scientific contributions), or “Teller’s Energy Source: A Historical Study of the Debate over the National Ignition Facility,” or “Particle Accelerators and Scientific Risk.”  Be sure to do searches for relevant articles in Historical New York Times and Los Angeles Times databases available from our library’s website and to make use of the oral history interviews with physicists from


Information Literacy beyond Wikipedia: As the open online encyclopedia becomes a popular source of information, we will learn how to use it effectively so we can benefit from its strengths while avoid its pitfalls as an exercise in information literacy.  As a rule of thumb, you are encouraged to use it as a starting point of research but generally not as an end point.  We will discuss why scholarly (peer-reviewed) books and articles, many of them available online from our library’s databases, are preferred sources of information and analysis.


Work Sheets and Discussions: Please complete the reading assignments before each session.  To help you manage the reading assignments, I will post on the course website a one-page worksheet that you will be required to fill out using a word processor and bring to class.  You may need to do some additional research on the web in answering some of the questions in the work sheets. We will use these worksheets for in-class discussions where you will be asked to comment on assigned readings and raise your questions about them for discussions.


Video Reviews: Following each video, you are required to write a one-paragraph review/response. You can do so in class if there is time or you can turn the review in at the next session.  The review should focus on what’s new and striking to you and how it relates to the class, not a summary of its contents.


Examinations: There will be a take-home midterm, which covers the first half of the class, and a take-home final exam, which covers the whole class.


Ground rules to ensure a suitable learning environment for everyone:

1.     Avoid late entry or early exit without instructor's prior authorization.

2.     Late works will be penalized by 1/3 letter grade per day, e.g. B to B- if one day late.

3.     Repeated, unexcused absences will considerably lower your grade for the class. 

4.     Signing-in for another student on the attendance sheet when that student is absent is an act of misconduct subject to disciplinary actions.

5.     Cell phones should be turned off during class period; no text messaging—either sending or receiving—is allowed once class starts.

6.     To avoid distraction, no use of laptop or any electronics device is allowed in the classroom unless authorized specifically by the instructor.

7.     In general, activities not related to this class are prohibited during class: e.g., newspaper-reading, doing work for another class, and chatting with each other.

8.     If you do not use your Cal Poly Pomona email account regularly, you will need to set it up so any email sent to your CPP account will be forwarded to an email address you do use regularly.  For more see link to CPP Help Desk:

9.     You can purchase Microsoft Windows and Office, including MS Word, at a greatly discounted price at Bronco Bookstore.

10.  If you have any learning disabilities and might need special accommodations, please contact me or the Disability Resource Center (x3333).

11.  Grade appeals policy: Please see this link for grade appeals procedure and policy in my courses:

12.  When we engage in discussion in the classroom and online, please remember that civility and an open mind help create a good learning environment.  For more on netiquette see, e.g.,

13.  Please contact me via email ( rather than phone or Blackboard.

14.  On issues related to copyright, please see:

15.  Plagiarism and other misconducts: See current Cal Poly Pomona Catalog regarding university policy governing student conduct and discipline, including rules against plagiarism (presenting ideas and writing of others as one's own).  For more see University Judicial Affairs:   


Grading (general guideline):

Work Sheets, Oral Presentations, Participation in Discussions, Attendance: 25%; Midterm: 25%; Term Paper: 25%; Final: 25%.


Topics and Reading Assignments (subject to change):

The lectures will cover only a few major events in depth but the students should read the texts (and sometimes doing some research online) to gain a comprehensive understanding of developments covered in class.  Click on the title of each session for the worksheet; underneath the titles are the relevant reading assignments.


Week 1

1/6       Introduction

            Midterm study questions


1/8       New scientific discoveries at the turn of the 20th century: x-ray, electron, and radioactivity (click on the title to download the worksheet for this session; you may need to do some additional research on the web in answering questions from this and future worksheets)

Video: Brilliant Minds.

Cline, chapters 1-3; AIP Exhibit on Marie Curie (OK to choose the brief version)


Week 2

1/13     Max Planck, Albert Einstein, and the quantum theory; Video: Einstein Revealed (pt 1, 1 hour)

Cline, chapters 4-5; Cassidy, chapters 1-3


1/15     No Class Meeting but read the Storey book and write a one-page review of what’s new and useful to you in regard to selecting a topic and writing the term paper.

            Storey, the whole book. 

Due at the time of the next class meeting: one-page review of Storey


Week 3           

1/20     King Holiday; No Class Meeting.


1/22     Einstein and the special relativity theory; Video: Einstein Revealed (pt 2, 1 hour)

            Cassidy, chapter 4; AIP Exhibit on Einstein (“Formative Years”—“Public Concerns”). 

Optional: Jim Holt, “Time Bandits: What Were Einstein and Gödel Talking about?New Yorker February 28, 2005.

            Homework assignment after today’s session: try to explain Einstein’s special relativity to a friend, co-worker, or relative, write a one-paragraph report on the experience, and turn it in at the end of the next class meeting.


Week 4

1/27    Einstein’s general relativity theory and modern cosmology; Einstein on social issues and religion

Cassidy, chapters 5-8; Cline, chapter 12; AIP Exhibit on Einstein (finish the exhibit).

Einstein, “Why Socialism?” Monthly Review 1, no. 1 (May 1949); John J. Simon, “Albert Einstein: Radical: A Political Profile,” Monthly Review 57, no. 1 (May 2005); Time Magazine, Albert Einstein: Person of the Century; Arnold V. Lesikar (eds.), Einstein on Science and Religion (website).


1/29     From atomic physics to quantum mechanics; The Bohr-Einstein debate over quantum mechanics

Video: The Search for Reality: the Story of Quantum Mechanics (30 minutes)

Cline, chapters 6-11, 13-14 (read or browse as much as you can); AIP Exhibits on Rutherford and Heisenberg;

Collect midterm suggestions

Term Paper Proposal (with a title and a paragraph explaining your topic) Due.


Week 5

2/3       Nuclear physics to the discovery of fission; The rise of American science between the wars; video: Path to Nuclear Fission.

Badash, “Introduction,” chapters 1-2; AIP Exhibits on Discovery of Fission and Lawrence and the Cyclotron.

Handout midterm


2/5       The making of the atomic bomb; Video: Birth of the Bomb; review sample student papers

Badash, chapter 3.  


Week 6

2/10    The use of the atomic bomb; Video: Hiroshima

Badash, chapter 4.  Browse Truman and the Bomb: A Documentary History by Robert H. Ferrell (pdf), pay attention to Truman’s diaries on July 17, 18, and 25, 1945.   

Midterm due.



2/12    The German bomb project; Video: Copenhagen

Frayn, Copenhagen; Documents related to Bohr-Heisenberg 1941 meeting at Bohr Archives; Mark Walker, “Nazis and the Bomb,” November 8, 2005, posted on PBS website (PDF version).


Week 7

2/17     Science and politics in the Soviet Union and China; Video: The Genius That Was China

AIP Exhibit on Sakharov:; Michael Wines, “Fang Lizhi, Chinese Physicist and Seminar Dissident,” New York Times, April 8, 2012; Dennis Overbye, “Einstein’s Man in Beijing,” New York Times, August 22, 2006.

Peter Neushul and Zuoyue Wang, "Between the Devil and the Deep Sea: C. K. Tseng, Mariculture, and the Politics of Science in Modern China," Isis 91, no. 1 (March 2000): 59-88.


2/19     No Class Meeting but complete this worksheet Science and politics during the Cold War based on assigned reading and watch the video Sputnik on Youtube and write a response.

            Badash, chapters 5-6.

            Bring both reading worksheet and video response to the next class.


Week 8

2/24     The origins of modern genetics; Video: Double Helix (part 1, 1 hour); PowerPoint presentation

Watson, Double-helix

Bring your own laptop or tablet to class. Library/internet worksheet Library/Internet research is due at next session.


2/26     Gender and genetics; Video: Double Helix (part 2, 1 hour); PowerPoint presentation

Lynne Osman Elkin, “Rosalind Franklin and the Double Helix,” Physics Today, February 2003.

James Watson Online Chat at Time-Yahoo!, March 24, 1999.

Linus Pauling’s correspondence on DNA at Oregon State University (see especially Jerry Donohue to Pauling 3/20/1953; Pauling to Max Delbrück 4/20/1953 and Donohue to Pauling, 9/14/1968).

Nicholas Wade, “Genome of DNA Pioneer Is Deciphered,” New York Times, May 31, 2007.



Week 9

3/3       Peer review of term papersBring draft term paper to class.

See sample paper on “Beyond Photograph 51” (on Rosalind Franklin’s scientific contributions), or “Teller’s Energy Source: A Historical Study of the Debate over the National Ignition Facility,” or “Particle Accelerators and Scientific Risk.” 


3/5       Biological and chemical warfare; The Original Sputnik Moment: Politics of big science during the Cold War Video: Bioterror.

Jonathan B. Tucker, “A Farewell to Germs: The U.S. Renunciation of Biological and Toxin Warfare, 1969-70 [pdf] [html],” International Security 27, no. 1 (Summer 2002), 107-148.

Zuoyue Wang, "The Politics of Big Science in the Cold War," HSPS 25, no. 2 (1995): 329-356.

Barack Obama, “Our Generation’s Sputnik Moment Is Now,” December 6, 2010 (video).


Week 10         

3/10     Global warming; video: Hot Politics (60 minutes)

Naomi Oreskes, “The Scientific Consensus on Climate Change,” Science 306 (December 3, 2004): 1686; “Testimony…US Senate,” December 6, 2006; (optional) Oreskes Talk at Cal Poly Pomona (video of ca. 1 hour 10 minutes, if link does not work, go to, January 24, 2007; Eli Kintisch, “Hansen’s Retirement from NASA spurs Look at His Legacy,” Science 340 (May 3, 2013): 540-541.

Browse Spencer Weart, Global Warming online book and AIP exhibit.


3/12     Science and Society Now: From Computer Science to Internet; Dark Matter and Energy; video: “Internet behind the Web

Gregory R. Gromov, “The Roads and Cross-Roads of Internet History.”

Meg Urry, “Dark Energy, Science’s Biggest Mystery,” CNN, October 9, 2011.

(ZW use only: “Travel in the History of Science”)

Term Paper due; handout Final Exam Questions