Mind & Society

, Volume 3, Issue 1, pp 67-79

First online:

Toward a history-based model for scientific invention: Problem-solving practices in the invention of the transistor and the development of the theory of superconductivity

  • Lillian HoddesonAffiliated withDepartment of History, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

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This paper argues that historical research is an important tool for modeling problem-solving in scientific invention and discovery. Two important cases in the history of modern physics—the invention of the transistor by John Bardeen and Walter Brattain and the development of the theory of superconductivity by Bardeen, Leon Cooper, and J. Robert Schrieffer—reveal factors essential to include in such a model. The focus is on problem-solving practices: problem decomposition, analogy, bridging principles, team-work, empirical tinkering, and library research. A complete framework must encompass the full range of factors, including contingent individual traits and environmental circumstances.


problem-solving scientific thinking physics creativity superconductivity transistor analogy decomposition