Neither Physics nor Chemistry

From Transformations: Studies in the History of Science and Technology

Neither Physics nor Chemistry

A History of Quantum Chemistry

By Kostas Gavroglu and Ana Simões

The evolution of a discipline at the intersection of physics, chemistry, and mathematics.





The evolution of a discipline at the intersection of physics, chemistry, and mathematics.

Quantum chemistry—a discipline that is not quite physics, not quite chemistry, and not quite applied mathematics—emerged as a field of study in the 1920s. It was referred to by such terms as mathematical chemistry, subatomic theoretical chemistry, molecular quantum mechanics, and chemical physics until the community agreed on the designation of quantum chemistry. In Neither Physics Nor Chemistry, Kostas Gavroglu and Ana Simões examine the evolution of quantum chemistry into an autonomous discipline, tracing its development from the publication of early papers in the 1920s to the dramatic changes brought about by the use of computers in the 1970s.

The authors focus on the culture that emerged from the creative synthesis of the various traditions of chemistry, physics, and mathematics. They examine the concepts, practices, languages, and institutions of this new culture as well as the people who established it, from such pioneers as Walter Heitler and Fritz London, Linus Pauling, and Robert Sanderson Mulliken, to later figures including Charles Alfred Coulson, Raymond Daudel, and Per-Olov Löwdin. Throughout, the authors emphasize six themes: epistemic aspects and the dilemmas caused by multiple approaches; social issues, including academic politics, the impact of textbooks, and the forging of alliances; the contingencies that arose at every stage of the developments in quantum chemistry; the changes in the field when computers were available to perform the extraordinarily cumbersome calculations required; issues in the philosophy of science; and different styles of reasoning.


$50.00 X ISBN: 9780262016186 368 pp. | 7 in x 9 in 15 b&w photos, 1 table


  • This is a first-rate book co-authored by the two leading experts in the history of quantum chemistry. They have achieved a detailed and complete interpretive synthesis which should stand for many years as the definitive book on the subject.

    Mary Jo Nye

    Horning Professor in the Humanities and Professor of History Emerita, Oregon State University

  • This book by Gavroglu and Simões is a masterful investigation of the constitution of a new scientific discipline that is 'neither physics nor chemistry.' It is a book that cannot avoid becoming a standard work for a long time to come. It will be of great interest not only to historians and philosophers of science, but also to the large community of chemists.

    Helge Kragh

    Department of Science Studies, Aarhus University; author of Quantum Generations

  • Neither Physics nor Chemistry is much more than a meticulously researched, authoritative history of quantum mechanical explanations of chemical structure. It is an insightful sociological and a commanding histriographical study of the formation of a modern new subdiscipline, quantum chemistry, and a searching examination of the impact that digital computers had on the field. It is also a highly instructive exploration of the consequences of these innovations for the culture of chemistry, and more generally for the philosophy of chemistry. It is a model for how to write the history of twentieth-century science, and Kostas Gavroglu and Ana Simões are to be commended for it.

    S. S. Schweber

    Koret Professor of the History of Ideas and Professor of Physics, Emeritus, Brandeis University