The Global Experiment: How the International Atomic Energy Agency Proved Dosimetry to Be a Techno-Diplomatic Issue

NTM Zeitschrift für Geschichte der Wissenschaften, Technik und Medizin 30 (2):167-195 (2022)
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This paper draws attention to the role of the IAEA in shaping radiation dosimetry practices, instrumentation, and standards in the late 1950s and 1960s. It traces the beginnings of the IAEA’s radiation dose intercomparison program which targeted all member states and involved the WHO so as to standardize dosimetry on a global level. To standardize dosimetric measurement methods, techniques, and instruments, however, one had to devise a method of comparing absorbed dose measurements in one laboratory with those performed in others with a high degree of accuracy. In 1964 the IAEA thus started to build up what I call the “global experiment,” an intercomparison of radiation doses with participating laboratories from many of its member states. To carry out the process of worldwide standardization in radiation dosimetry, I argue, an organization with the diplomatic power and global reach of the IAEA was absolutely necessary. Thus, “global experiment” indicates a novel understanding of the experimental process. What counts as an experiment became governed by a process that was designed and strictly regulated by an international organization; it took place simultaneously in several laboratories across the globe, while experimental data became centrally owned and alienated from those that produced it.



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