Physics in Perspective

, Volume 17, Issue 2, pp 83–106 | Cite as

Stars, Peripheral Scientists, and Equations: The Case of M. N. Saha

  • Deepanwita DasguptaEmail author


Peripheral actors rarely make an appearance in the general story of scientific practice, and their work in science is usually viewed as somewhat derivative of the practices of the main community. Contrary to this received model, here I argue that the peripheral contexts of science can be quite important and reveal novel conduits to creative scientific thinking. Not only can such contexts offer us a new window into how contributory expertise in science could be born amid difficult circumstances, they also allow us to see how new scientific communities could be founded during such encounters. Using case studies of M. N. Saha and other physicists in early twentieth-century India, I argue that such modest practices begin when peripheral protagonists seek to initiate new trading zones with the established centers of science. The resulting exchanges can give rise to new breakthroughs and conceptual changes in scientific practice. Such peripheral breakthroughs can be studied cognitively, giving us newer models of scientific practice as well as creating a new kind of self-image for such scientists.


M. N. Saha trading zones ionization Saha equation peripheral science 



I would like to thank the two referees of this journal who read an earlier version of this paper and asked me some important questions about the outcomes of a trade between a peripheral community and its more central counterparts. An earlier version of this paper was read at the 2014 History of Science Society Meeting at Chicago, and I thank my session participants for their requests for clarifications on the different stages of trade in peripheral science.


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© Springer Basel 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PhilosophyEast Tennessee State UniversityJohnson City USA

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