Michel Janssen

Michel in Einstein's bath tub

I am a historian of modern physics. I am on the faculty of the Program in the History of Science, Technology, and Medicine and the School of Physics and Astronomy (see my faculty profile) and a fellow at the Minnesota Center for Philosophy of Science (MCPS) at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis. I am also a regular visitor at Jürgen Renn's Abteilung at the Max-Planck-Institut für Wissenschaftsgeschichte (MPIWG) in Berlin.

My dissertation focused on the transition from classical to special relativistic mechanics. I worked for several years for the Einstein Papers Project (then at Boston University, now at Caltech) annotating papers, letters, and manuscripts documenting Einstein's path to general relativity. I was part of a research group of the MPIWG working on the history of general relativity. Our findings were published in: Jürgen Renn (ed.), The Genesis of General Relativity (4 Vols., Springer, 2007). I wrote the chapter on general relativity for The Cambridge Companion to Einstein (Cambridge University Press, 2014), which I co-edited with Christoph Lehner, a research scholar at the MPIWG. Since about 2006, my interest has shifted to the transition from the old quantum theory to the new quantum mechanics of the 1920s. In the context of another project of the MPIWG, I have been collaborating with Tony Duncan, a theoretical physicist at the University of Pittsburgh, on a series of papers analyzing various stages in this transition. We are currently working on a book on the subject with the working title How We Got to Quantum Mechanics. Guiding my research in general are broader philosophical questions about scientific methodology and theory change (see the slides for a talk on “Common Origin Inferences” and the preprint of an article on “Arches and Scaffolds”).


Michel Janssen's CV

Michel in the bathtub in the Einstein Haus in Caputh (2009)