Gerhard Wiesenfeldt
University of Melbourne
Ultraviolet radiation is generally considered to have been discovered by Johann Wilhelm Ritter in 1801. In this article, we study the reception of Ritter’s experiment during the first decade after the event—Ritter’s remaining lifetime. Drawing on the attributional model of discovery, we are interested in whether the German physicists and chemists granted Ritter’s observation the status of a discovery and, if so, of what. Two things are remarkable concerning the early reception, and both have to do more with neglect than with reception. Firstly, Ritter’s observation was sometimes accepted as a fact but, with the exception of C. J. B. Karsten’s theory of invisible light, it played almost no role in the lively debate about the nature of heat and light. We argue that it was the prevalent discourse based on the metaphysics of Stoffe that prevented a broader reception of Ritter’s invisible rays, not the fact that Ritter himself made his findings a part of his Naturphilosophie. Secondly, with the exception of C. E. Wünsch’s experiments on the visual spectrum, there was no experimental examination of the experiment. We argue that theorizing about ontological systems was more common than experimenting, because, given its social and institutional situation, this was the appropriate way of contributing to physics. Consequently, it was less clear in 1810 than in 1801 what, if anything, had been discovered by Ritter.Keywords: Johann Wilhelm Ritter; Carl Johann Bernhard Karsten; Christian Ernst Wünsch; Ultraviolet radiation; Conceptions of heat and light
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DOI 10.1016/j.shpsa.2009.03.014
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Physics and Naturphilosophie: A Reconnaissance.Kenneth L. Caneva - 1997 - History of Science 35 (1):35-106.

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