Bomb book wins top honour

11/26/04

Brits rewarded at Texan conference

A University of Manchester academic has been awarded a prestigious international prize for his book about the history of science.

Dr Jeff Hughes received the History of Science Society's 2004 Watson Davis and Helen Miles Davis Prize at a ceremony in Austin, Texas.

His book, entitled 'The Manhattan Project: Big Science and the Atom Bomb', was unanimously chosen as 'most outstanding book directed to wide public audiences'.

Dr Hughes, who is senior lecturer in the Centre for the History of Science, Technology and Medicine, joins an illustrious list of former winners that includes Dan Kevles, Nancy Tomes, Peter Dear, Richard Rhodes and John Heilbron.

The last British winner of the award was John Brooke, now of The University of Oxford, in 1992.

The book, Dr Hughes's first, charts the rapid growth in the scale of scientific projects during the course of the 20th Century but questions the widely held belief that this expansion began during World War II with work on the atom bomb.

At its height, the Manhattan Project, as it became known, employed 130,000 people and cost $2 billion, equivalent in size to the entire American automobile industry.

However, Dr Hughes argues that 'Big Science' existed well before the Manhattan Project, citing the growth of interest in astronomy in the late 18th and 19th centuries as just one example.

Of the award, Dr Hughes said: "I was utterly amazed when I found out I had won; many of my heroes in the field are past recipients.

"Hopefully, winning this prize will help get the message across that by critically re-examining the history of science we can illuminate present-day thinking and inform public understanding of science and science policy."

Larry Owens, Chair of the Prize committee, said: "This slender volume deftly summarises the bomb project while embedding it within a larger narrative that traces the trajectory of Big Science from the early 1900s through the collapse of the Superconducting Supercollider in 1993.

"Reminding his readers that the Manhattan Project and the scientific style it represents were as much a European as an American phenomenon, Hughes forces students to grapple with the pros and cons of a style of science that dominated the post-war years."

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