a1 History of Science, Department of History, Johann Wolfgang Goethe-University, Grueneburgplatz 1, 60323 Frankfurt, Germany. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
In the second half of the nineteenth century, gas discharge research was transformed from a playful and fragmented field into a new branch of physical science and technology. From the 1850s onwards, several technical innovations – powerful high-voltage supplies, the enhancement of glass-blowing skills, or the introduction of mercury air-pumps – allowed for a major extension of experimental practices and expansion of the phenomenological field. Gas discharge tubes served as containers in which resources from various disciplinary contexts could be brought together; along with the experimental apparatus built around them the tubes developed into increasingly complex interfaces mediating between the human senses and the micro-world. The focus of the following paper will be on the physicist and chemist Johann Wilhelm Hittorf (1824–1914), his educational background and his attempts to understand gaseous conduction as a process of interaction between electrical energy and matter. Hittorf started a long-term project in gas discharge research in the early 1860s. In his research he tried to combine a morphological exploration of gas discharge phenomena – aiming at the experimental production of a coherent phenomenological manifold – with the definition and precise measurements of physical properties.
(Online publication November 24 2010)
This paper is dedicated to Falk Rieß, his achievements as a teacher and as spiritus rector of the Research Group on Physics Education/History and Philosophy of Science at Oldenburg University. I want to thank Bernhard Taufertshöfer for his permission to use his photographs and Jan Frercks, Moritz Epple, Jahnavi Phalkey, Christian Sichau and the referees for their constructive criticism.