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From dust figures to the kinetic theory of gases: August kundt and the changing nature of experimental physics in the 1860s and 1870s

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This essay seeks to illuminate the changing nature of experimental physics in the 1860s and 1870s by analysing the creation of dust tubes and dust figures by the German experimentalist August Kundt, and by showing how Kundt and his associate Emil Warburg used the ‘Kundt tube' to test the new kinetic theory of gases. In so doing, the essay seeks to show how Kundt came to revise the vision of experimental physics that he had learned from his teacher Heinrich Gustav Magnus, a vision in which the experimentalist's goal was to establish ‘the facts'. Kundt, by contrast, came to envision experimental physics as being in the service of theory: to confirm or disconfirm theory, or to provide theorists with new phenomena to theorize about. Kundt's vision, it is argued, is emblematic of the changing nature of experimental physics and reflective of the rise of the new subdisciplines of theoretical and experimental physics.

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: Department of History, University of Nebraska-Lincoln, 610 Oldfather Hall, Lincoln, NE, 68588-0327, U.S.A.

Publication date: March 1, 1990

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