Gildo M. Santos
Glenn E. and Barbara Hodsdon Ullyot Scholar
- E-mail: gildomsantos-at-hotmail-dot-com
I am Gildo Magalhães Santos, and I am a professor of history of science and technology at the University of São Paulo, Brazil, where I have taught several undergraduate and graduate courses since 1998. Originally I graduated as an electronic engineer and worked in this field for several years, which included one year as a trainee with Westinghouse in Pittsburgh and a fellowship in Germany (1983–84). My Ph.D. led me to write a dissertation on the history of Brazilian computers in 1994. A significant career upgrade was proportioned by a Dibner fellowship at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C. (2003), where my research was about natural philosophy and the quest for a unified science. This contributed to my becoming in 2005 an associate professor in São Paulo. Other academic interests include an ongoing collaboration with the Center for the Philosophy of Science at the University of Lisbon, Portugal, focused on the history and present status of quantum theory.
My research project at CHF is titled “Ida Noddack and the Universal Function of Matter.” Ida Noddack was a German chemist who, with her husband Walter Noddack, discovered in 1925 element 75 (rhenium) and possibly also element 43 (technetium). She is also known to have anticipated the possibility of nuclear fission in 1934. Recent scholarship has highlighted the problems faced by analytical chemistry during the years preceding World War II and the challenges posed to Ida Noddack because of her scientific nonconformity, enhanced by an environment generally hostile to her gender plus the overall strangling of research under the Nazi regime, to all of which one could add the possible resentment of physicists when confronted by the “invasion” of their field by chemists.
The debate on nuclear fission as well as Ida’s activities as element-hunter have already been the object of attention among historians. However, a less illuminated aspect of Ida’s work is her hypothesis about the distribution of matter in the universe. According to this, if we take any sufficiently large material system, one arrives approximately at the same frequency distribution of all the periodical table elements. To study this, the Noddack couple undertook the chemical analysis of meteorites, out of which Ida concluded that all elements are present in just any mineral, an unexpected result derived from exhaustive trial-and-error attempts. The minimal concentration at which a given element is present in any mineral was called by Ida the “universal mineral concentration.” Apparently Ida related the relative abundance of the elements in the universe to some property of the atomic nuclei. This allowed her to conjecture new and unexpected properties of periodicity in the table of elements. She and her husband also imagined that the relative concentrations of the elements had considerably changed during the history of the universe, and more specifically during Earth’s geological eras.
The following is a selected list of my publications in English. Other publications are in Portuguese and considerably more difficult to obtain:
- “Electricity in Brazil.” IEEE Industry Applications Magazine 17:2 (March/April 2011).
- “A Debate on Magnetic Current: The Troubled Einstein-Ehrenhaft Correspondence.” British Journal for the History of Science (Oct. 2010).
- “On Eurhythmy as a Principle for Growing Order and Complexity in the Natural World.” In A New Vision on Physics. Lisboa: FCT, Ministério da Ciência e Tecnologia, 2010.
- “Evolution in the Backlands.” In Darwin in Atlantic Cultures, edited by Jeanette Jones and Patrick Sharp. New York: Routledge, 2009.
- “Remarks on a New Autograph Letter from Augustin Fresnel: Light Aberration and Wave Theory.” Science in Context 19:2 (2006): 1–13.
- “A Case Study in Big Science: The Otto Hahn Nuclear Ship and the German-Brazilian Deals in Nuclear Energy.” Icon—Journal of the International Committee for the History of Technology 6 (2000): 21–49.