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Michael Polanyi and His GenerationOrigins of the Social Construction of Science$
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Mary Jo Nye

Print publication date: 2011

Print ISBN-13: 9780226610634

Published to Chicago Scholarship Online: September 2013

DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226610658.001.0001

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Origins of a Social Perspective: Doing Physical Chemistry in Weimar Berlin

Origins of a Social Perspective: Doing Physical Chemistry in Weimar Berlin

(p.85) THREE Origins of a Social Perspective: Doing Physical Chemistry in Weimar Berlin
Michael Polanyi and His Generation

Mary Jo Nye

University of Chicago Press

This chapter examines Michael Polanyi's work in surface chemistry and X-ray diffraction by way of analyzing how he later drew upon his experiences in order to develop the notion of the “typical” or ordinary scientist who is at the heart of everyday scientific practice. Polanyi's investigations in these two fields generated greater skepticism and less recognition from his colleagues than his results in chemical kinetics and reaction dynamics, which are the subject of the next chapter. Polanyi's reflections on resistance to his work turned him to sociological, rather than logical, explanation, for the mechanism by which scientific priority and recognition are accorded within the structure of scientific authority. The chapter concludes with an analysis of how Polanyi reinterpreted his work on surface chemistry and X-ray diffraction within a sociological framework in two essays published in the early 1960s.

Keywords:   surface chemistry, X-ray diffraction, chemical kinetics, reaction dynamics, sociological explanation, sociological framework

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