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10-08-2015, 22:41

Science and Technology

Since the Scientific Revolution of the seventeenth century and the Industrial Revolution of the nineteenth, science and technology have played increasingly important roles in world civilization. Many of the scientific and technological achievements since World War II have revolutionized people’s lives. When American astronauts walked on the moon, millions watched the event on their television sets in the privacy of their living rooms. Before World War II, theoretical science and technology were largely separated. Pure science was the domain of university professors, far removed from the practical technological matters of technicians and engineers. But during World War II, university scientists were recruited to work for their governments to develop new weapons and practical instruments of war. British physicists played a crucial role in developing an improved radar system in 1940 that helped defeat the German air force in the Battle of Britain. The computer, too, was a wartime creation. British mathematician Alan Turing designed a primitive computer to assist British intelligence in breaking the secret codes of German ciphering machines. The most famous product of wartime scientific research was the atomic bomb, created by a team of American and European scientists under the guidance of the physicist J. Robert Oppenheimer. Obviously, most wartime devices were created for destructive purposes, but computers and breakthrough technologies such as nuclear energy were soon adapted for peacetime uses. The sponsorship of research by governments and the military during World War II led to a new scientific model. Science had become very complex, and only large organizations with teams of scientists, huge laboratories, and complicated equipment could undertake such largescale projects. Such facilities were so expensive, however, that only governments and large corporations could support them. Because of its postwar prosperity, the United States was able to lead in the development of the new science. Almost 75 percent of all scientific research funds in the United States came from the government in 1965. Unwilling to lag behind, especially in military development, the Soviet Union was also forced to provide large outlays for scientific and technological research and development. In fact, the defense establishments of the United States and the Soviet Union generated much of the scientific research of the postwar era. One of every four scientists and engineers trained after 1945 was engaged in the creation of new weapons systems. Universities found their research agendas increasingly determined by government funding for military-related projects. There was no more stunning example of how the new scientific establishment operated than the space race of the 1960s. In 1957, the Soviets announced that they had sent the first space satellite, Sputnik I, into orbit around the earth. In response, the United States launched a gigantic project to land a manned spacecraft on the moon within a decade. Massive government funding financed the scientific research and technological advances that attained this goal in 1969. The postwar alliance of science and technology led to an accelerated rate of change that became a fact of life throughout Western society. The emergence of the computer has revolutionized American business practices and transformed the way individuals go about their lives and communicate with each other. Although early computers, which required thousands of vacuum tubes to function, were quite large, the development of the transistor and the silicon chip enabled manufacturers to reduce the size of their products dramatically. By the 1990s, the personal computer had become a fixture in businesses, schools, and homes around the country. The Internet— the world’s largest computer network—provides millions of people around the world with quick access to immense quantities of information, as well as rapid communication and commercial transactions. By 2000, an estimated 500 million people were using the Internet. The United States has been at the forefront of this process, and the Clinton administration established the goal of providing instruction in computers to every school in the country.