Research Projects

Socialist Scientific Internationalism and Science Diplomacy

1 - Science diplomacy and international cooperation across the Iron Curtain

In collaboration with Alexei Kojevnikov

This project studies the redefinition of the role of science and scientific internationalism in the USSR's foreign relations focusing on the role of the key scientists and institutions as promoters of science diplomacy. It aims to produce three case studies, each of which may bring forth different aspects of this process. In the first case, we study the physicist Dimitry Blokhintsev (1908-1979) and the International Union of Pure and Applied Physics, which he presided over from 1966 to 1969. The second case discusses the East-West scientific exchange in quantum electronics, a typical postwar field, which stemmed from maser and laser research circa 1960 on both sides of the Iron Curtain. The scientists considered the founding fathers of the field, the American Charles Townes and the Russians Nikolai Basov and Alexander Prokhorov developed a close and friendly relationship despite being deeply involved in the military-scientific-industrial complexes of their nations. In 1964 they would share the Nobel prize for their contribution to the invention of lasers. The third and last case inquires about the process that led to the Nobel prize, from the nominations to the final decision by the Nobel Committee. Using documents from the Archives of the IUPAP, Russian Academy of Sciences, Joint Institute for Nuclear Research, and Nobel Foundation, we will investigate the Soviet (and generally, socialist) approach to scientific internationalism in the middle of the Cold War, between 1954 and 1970.


Silva Neto, C. P. and Kojevnikov, A. "Socialist Internationalism and Science Diplomacy Across the Iron Curtain: Dubna, Geneva, IUPAP" In One Hundred Years of the IUPAP, ed. Jaume Navarro und Roberto Lalli, Oxford University Press, 2023.

SILVA NETO, C. P.; KOJEVNIKOV, A. . Convergence in Cold War Physics: Coinventing the Maser in the Postwar Soviet Union. Berichte zur Wissenschaftsgeschichte, p. bewi.201900009, 2019.

2 - A Nobel for Detante? 

In collaboration with Karl Grandin

The aim of the research is to understand the rationale underlying the decision of the Nobel Committee and Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences to award the 1964 Nobel prize to Charles Townes, Alexander Prokhorov, and Nikolai Basov, placing that decision in the context of the Cold War. The prize was shared by the American and the two Soviet physicists for their fundamental works that led to the invention of masers and lasers. As with most of the notable scientific inventions, masers and lasers resulted from the works of several hands and minds. The Nobel Committee and the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, as it often happens, had to face the daunting challenge of choosing the most significant contributors to outstanding scientific achievement. Adding to that challenge, they had to weigh the political and diplomatic implications of their decisions, which made the whole process of awarding the prize rather interesting from a historical perspective.

  In the Cold War, the Academy was involved in politics as never before. The media, East and West, was eager to use the prize as simulacra of hostility or détente between the major powers. The Academy did well in resisting outside pressure, but they did some politics on their own. As the historical literature of the prize suggests, to comprehend the outcome of the prize, we have to consider all stages of the selection process, from the selection of invitations to nominate to the announcement of the laureates. The records of those stages offer remarkable insights not only into the prestigious scientific award but also into the role of scientists as players on the stage of (inter)national policy.

We may already partially understand the decision of the Academy based on the nomination archive. Several major contributors were not nominated in 1964 and, therefore, according to the bylaws, could not be considered for the prize. Besides the three laureates, only Arthur Schalow could be considered for the prize. As the Nobel prize cannot be awarded to more than three persons at a time, being left out of the prize meant that Schalow was ranked 4th in the list of candidates, which is coherent with the nomination data for 1964 and the overall nominations to laser physicists.

More revealing, however, is the distribution of nominations across the Iron Curtain. The database reveals that all Eastern nominations advanced a shared prize, while almost all the Western nominations suggested that Charles Townes should receive the prize alone. Does that reflect the mood of the Eastern and Western scientific communities in the period?

  That raises interesting questions that are beyond the reach of the nomination database. Did Soviet scientists articulate to advance a joint prize for the Soviet Union and the USSR? If so, what kind of argument they used to advance that goal? How did the Nobel Committee and the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences weigh the scientific, political, and diplomatic factors in choosing the laureates?  How did it respond to outside pressure? 

Soybeans, Science and Politics

In collaboration with Fernanda Braga

The implementation of soybean cultivation on a large scale in the Brazilian Midwest is often regarded as one of the great success stories of Brazilian science. Research carried out in national institutions such as The Brazilian Agricultural Research Corporation (Embrapa) allowed the implementation of the crop in the edaphoclimatic conditions of the vast lands of the Brazilian cerrado and was crucial for the country to become the world's largest soy producer. Despite this recognition, the role of these institutions and of the research carried out in them for Brazilian soybean farming still need to be explored in the literature on the history of science in Brazil. This research aims to understand the leading research programs, institutions, and policies that contributed to the process that led the country to become a world leader in soy production. Studying the efforts to implement the crop in Brazil since the Second World War until the process that led to the introduction of the crop in the Brazilian Midwest, taking the year 2000 as the final milestone, I want to analyze the role of research institutions and Science and Technology (S&T) policies by Brazilian governments, as well as the influence of international geopolitical contexts, the global political-scientific phenomenon known as the Green Revolution, and US institutions and companies in this process. Based on preliminary results, I argue that this look at science and technology in Brazil from the efforts to modernize soybean farming helps to understand to what extent the ideals of development and progress widely shared by Brazilian governments, both left and right, have translated into support to strategic S&T sectors throughout the period. In addition, I hope the study can help to elucidate the dynamics of transnational movements of knowledge and technologies in the Cold War period and aspects of Brazilian environmental history that are crucial for understanding contemporary Brazil.

Instrumentation and the quantum foundations

The materialization of gedankenexperiments was one of the primary reasons for the rise of quantum foundations in the second half of the 20th century. Nevertheless, it is still unclear how and when the instruments and techniques underlying that materialization came about. This project aims to clarify these questions for the main instruments and techniques used in Bell's inequality experiments, the first and most prominent foundational experiments. It traces back the origins and development of the sources of entangled photons, analyzers, and detection sets used in Bell's inequality experiments. Its central conclusion is that there is a recurring pattern in the history of those instruments and techniques: they appeared before the war, developed momentously during and after the war, and enabled groundbreaking research in various fields. To no small degree, the instruments and techniques that enabled testing Bell's inequality resulted from tendencies characteristic of the first postwar decade in physics.


Climério Paulo da Silva Neto, Materializing the Foundations of Quantum Mechanics (Springer, 2023)

Climério Paulo da Silva Neto. “Instrumentation and the Foundations of Quantum Mechanics.” In Oxford Handbook of the History of Interpretations of Quantum Physics, edited by Olival Freire Jr., Guido Bacciagaluppi, Olivier Darrigol, Thiago Hartz, Christian Joas, Alexei Kojevnikov, and Osvaldo Pessoa Junior. Oxford University Press, 2022.