The Goldilocks Profession: Defining the Nuclear Engineer

Johnston, S. F. (2013) The Goldilocks Profession: Defining the Nuclear Engineer. 24th International Congress of History of Science, Technology and Medicine, Manchester, UK, 21-28 Jul 2013. (Unpublished)

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Between the 1940s and 90s, successive generations of nuclear specialists found themselves defined by conflicts. Their new expertise drew on both high physics and engineering heuristics. Their evolving jobs were defined alternately by the corporate industrial cultures of chemistry and of electrical engineering. And, despite the exuberance of the atomic age, their professional status and collective authority vascillated. Veiled by security, their new knowledge was guarded in national laboratories. Unlike their predecessors, the disciplinary borders, occupational roles and public status of nuclear engineers were defined largely by the State. As power generation developed as the principal application, nuclear engineers populated more stable job categories as designers and operators of reactors. But as ill-defined and often faceless experts, these practitioners’ characteristics became subsumed by those of corporate sponsors. In latter decades, these expert practitioners were delineated more often by accidents than by achievements. This paper examines factors shaping technical identity and argues that, as members of a perpetually ‘in-between’ or ‘Goldilocks’ profession, nuclear engineers had remarkably limited influence in defining their own identity. Based on archival and oral history research in the UK, USA and Canada and comparisons with earlier national studies, the history of their emergence can be characterised as transnational and yet largely transcending politics at the national scale.

Item Type:Conference or Workshop Item
Keywords:nuclear engineering; professional identity; mid-century; professionalisation
Glasgow Author(s) Enlighten ID:Johnston, Professor Sean
Authors: Johnston, S. F.
Subjects:C Auxiliary Sciences of History > C Auxiliary sciences of history (General)
D History General and Old World > D History (General)
D History General and Old World > D History (General) > D839 Post-war History, 1945 on
D History General and Old World > DA Great Britain
E History America > E11 America (General)
Q Science > Q Science (General)
College/School:College of Social Sciences > School of Interdisciplinary Studies
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Project CodeAward NoProject NamePrincipal InvestigatorFunder's NameFunder RefLead Dept
445351The nuclear engineer - shaping a professionSean JohnstonEconomic & Social Research Council (ESRC)ES/E018483/1IS - INTERDISCIPLINARY STUDIES