VII. The Contemporary Period, 1945–2000 > B. Europe, 1945–2000 > 4. Science and Technology
  The Encyclopedia of World History.  2001.
(See Science and Technology)
4. Science and Technology
The most important development in these two arenas was their continuing merger after World War II. During the war, scientific research and technical expertise were both directed at solving practical military problems. After the war, this cooperation between pure science and applied technology continued, giving rise to what many called “big science.” The war had demonstrated the effectiveness of directed research, a trend continued after the war. This required a great deal of organization, however, and became very expensive. Indeed, scientific research became the province of large, well-defined bureaucratic organizations, and funding could be maintained only by governments and corporations. By 1960, for example, when governments in Western Europe created the European Council for Nuclear Research to build an accelerator outside of Geneva, the cost was $30 million. The cost of research resulted in a “brain drain” in Europe, as many scientists emigrated to the United States, where both the government and large corporations spent vast sums of money. European nations responded to this challenge, however, by pooling their energies, as in the Franco-British collaboration on the Concorde, the supersonic passenger airliner, and Airbus, the airline manufacturing consortium created by Great Britain, France, West Germany, and Spain among others.  1
Much of what was accomplished in technology built on what had existed before World War II; jets, radar, and electronic computers were all developed before the war and were adapted to more consumer-centered uses afterward. Microwave technology, for example, was perfected for military purposes during the war, but generated endless applications afterward in the telecommunications industry. This continued after the cold war as well, as technology developed for the space race between the United States and the Soviet Union gave rise to the use of French Arianne rockets to launch commercial satellites.  2
At the same time, the vigorous environmental movement began to question the results of rapid technological change. In 1969, for example, millions of fish died in the Rhine River two years after the disappearance of two 50-pound canisters containing the insecticide Thiodan. Concerns over such environmental tragedies developed into political movements, especially in Germany, where the Green Party gained enough power to win a considerable number of votes in elections in the early 1990s. Disasters like the 1986 meltdown at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in the Ukraine tempered society's belief in the potential benefits of modern technology.  3
Some of the major scientific and technological developments that have occurred since 1945 follow.  4
The word automation was coined by John Deibold and D. S. Harder, to define “a self-powered, self-guiding and correcting mechanism,” and it was later extended to include all elements of production—“automated factory”—and office and clerical procedures.  5
The basic-oxygen process for the manufacture of steel was developed in Austria.  6
Francis H. C. Crick (b. 1916) and James D. Watson (b. 1928) offered a model for the structure of DNA that accounted for gene replication and posited a biochemical code that could transmit a great variety of genetic information. Electronic computers with feedback mechanisms (servomechanisms) made possible the new field of cybernetics, defined by Norbert Wiener (1953) as “the study of control and communication in the animal and the machine.”  7
The first manned spaceship circled the earth April 12 in 89.1 minutes, at an altitude of 187.7 miles. Soviet astronaut Yuri Gagarin (1934–68), made the orbit in the space vehicle Vostok I, and astronaut (cosmonaut) Gherman Titov orbited the earth 17 times less than four months later.  8
Neil Bartlett (b. 1932) announced that he had combined xenon with platinum and fluorine to form xenon-platinum hexafluoride; other compounds of xenon and radon were found, thus destroying the notion that the noble gases are all nonreacting.  9
July 10
Telstar I was launched. The new satellite was used to transmit the first live transatlantic telecasts between the United States and Great Britain.  10
The Encyclopedia of World History, Sixth edition. Peter N. Stearns, general editor. Copyright © 2001 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Maps by Mary Reilly, copyright 2001 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved.