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The Physics of Cold in the Cold War—“On-Line Computing” Between the ICBM Program and Superconductivity

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History of Artificial Cold, Scientific, Technological and Cultural Issues

Part of the book series: Boston Studies in the Philosophy and History of Science ((BSPS,volume 299))

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Superconductivity—the loss of resistance in various materials close to absolute zero temperature—was a hot topic after World War II. Advances in nuclear reactor technology led to the discovery of the isotope effect in 1950 (Maxwell 1950; Reynolds et al. 1950), which brought about crucial insights about the role of electron-lattice interactions in superconductors that ultimately led to the formulation of a microscopic theory of this phenomenon. Generations of physicists had been struggling to find an explanation of superconductivity ever since its discovery in 1911 by Heike Kamerlingh Onnes.

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    TRW encouraged their technical staff to entertain close relations with researchers at universities and to publish in scientific journals (Dyer 1998, p. 175). This policy at least partly appears to have been driven by TRW’s interest in diversifying their customer base by marketing products outside of the military sector, since the cyclicality of the latter was perceived as a potential threat to the company’s future (see Dyer 1998, p. 244).

  6. 6.

    Culler and Fried, Burton: An on-line computing center for scientific problems. M19-3U3. Revised June 1963. TRW Computer Division. Canoga Park, California. Online: (accessed on Jul 12, 2011).

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    This also had to do with the lack of communication between East and West in the beginning Cold War (see, e.g., Matricon and Waysand 2003; Kaiser 2006).

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 The authors wish to thank R. Joseph Anderson, Alexander S. Blum, Jeremiah James, Christoph Lehner, Jean Matricon, Jürgen Renn, Skúli Sigurðsson, and Georges Waysand for helpful comments and suggestions, as well as the Project on the History and Foundations of Quantum Physics (a collaborative project of the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science and the Fritz Haber Institute of the Max Planck Society, Berlin) for its generous financial support. Substantial parts of the present contribution are based on Knolle, J., Joas, C. 2013. Supraleitung und Interkontinentalraketen. “On-Line Computing” zwischen Militär, Industrie und Wissenschaft. In Physik im Kalten Krieg. Beiträge zur Physikgeschichte während des Ost-West-Konflikts, ed. D. Hoffmann and C. Forstner. Wiesbaden: Springer.

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Knolle, J., Joas, C. (2014). The Physics of Cold in the Cold War—“On-Line Computing” Between the ICBM Program and Superconductivity. In: Gavroglu, K. (eds) History of Artificial Cold, Scientific, Technological and Cultural Issues. Boston Studies in the Philosophy and History of Science, vol 299. Springer, Dordrecht.

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