Alexander Blum

Research Scholar
Research Scholars are early career scholars who have ordinarily already had at least one postdoctoral fellowship or equivalent academic experience. This is the equivalent of an entry-level academic position (e.g. assistant professor in North America, Lecturer in the United Kingdom, Maître de conférences in France). These scholars carry considerable responsibilities (no more than 30% of their time) within their research unit.
Department I
Dr. rer. nat.
May 1, 2010 to December 31, 2017

Alexander has a PhD in theoretical particle physics from the University of Heidelberg (research at the MPI for Nuclear Physics, 2009). In 2010 he moved into the History of Science, and to the MPIWG, where he started out as a member of the Quantum History Project (until 2012). Since then he has been a Research Scholar at the MPIWG and coordinated the cooperative project with the Lindau Nobel Laureates Meeting Foundation from 2013–2014. He is closely associated with the Research Program on the History of the Max Planck Society (GMPG). Alexander has organized several smaller workshops at the MPIWG (and externally) bringing together physicists, historians, and philosophers to discuss the history and foundations of quantum gravity. He also co-organized the large conference at MPIWG/Harnack-Haus celebrating the centenary of general relativity (2015).

Alexander’s research interests lie in the history (and philosophy) of modern physics, lately with a strong emphasis on the postwar period. His current MPIWG research projects focus on the postwar developments of the two great revolutionary theories of the early twentieth century, general relativity, and quantum mechanics, with a special focus on attempts to combine the two. He is also currently completing (together with Dean Rickles of the University of Sydney) a commented sourcebook on the earliest attempts to bring together quantum theory and general relativity, which will be published in 2017. In 2017, he will begin teaching at the physics department of the FU Berlin, pursuing a novel approach of teaching advanced (Master’s level) physics classes with a strong focus on historical theory development.

Selected publications: 

Blum, A. S., Giulini, D., Lalli, R., & Renn, J. (Eds.). (2017). Editorial introduction to the special issue "The Renaissance of Einstein’s Theory of Gravitation". European Physical Journal H, 42(2), 95-105. doi:10.1140/epjh/e2017-80023-3.

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Blum, A. S., & Hartz, T. (2017). The 1957 quantum gravity meeting in Copenhagen: an analysis of Bryce S. DeWitt’s report. The European Physical Journal H, 42(2), 107-157. doi:10.1140/epjh/e2017-80015-8.

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Blum, A. S., Giulini, D., Lalli, R., & Renn, J. (Eds.). (2017). The Renaissance of Einstein’s Theory of Gravitation [Special Issue]. European Physical Journal H, 42(2),.

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Blum, A. S. (2017). The state is not abolished, it withers away: how quantum field theory became a theory of scattering. Studies in History and Philosophy of Modern Physics. doi:10.1016/j.shpsb.2017.01.004.

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Blum, A. S., Jähnert, M., Lehner, C., & Renn, J. (2017). Translation as heuristics: Heisenberg’s turn to matrix mechanics. Studies in History and Philosophy of Modern Physics, 58. doi:10.1016/j.shpsb.2017.03.005.

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July 2015
HQ-4. Fourth Conference on the History of Quantum Physics at the Donostia International Physics Center, San Sebastián/Donostia
The state is not abolished, it withers away
July 2015
HQ-4. Fourth Conference on the History of Quantum Physics at the Donostia International Physics Center, San Sebastián/Donostia (with Martin Jähnert, Christoph Lehner, and Jürgen Renn)
Dynamics of Umdeutung: From the Kronig Letter to Matrix Mechanics
January 2015
"Space-Time Theories: Historical and Philosophical Contexts" at the Van Leer Jerusalem Institute
The Schism - The Origins of Canonical and Covariant Quantum Gravity
December 2014
"Argumente und Rhetorik in der Physik" hosted by the Erlanger Zentrum für Literatur und Naturwissenschaft
"Auf den ersten Blick könnte man meinen, das Auftreten solcher Unendlichkeiten mache die Theorie unbrauchbar..." – Argumentationsstrategien im Umgang mit Unendlichkeiten in der Quantenfeldtheorie (1930–1950)
July 2013
"Foundations of Physics Conference" at LMU Munich
A Silver Lining among Infinities: How the Spin-Statistics Theorem Restored Faith in Quantum Field Theory
May 2014
Seven Pines Symposium XVIII
History of Functional Methods in Quantum Field Theory
May 2013
"Quantum Gravity in Perspective" at the Munich Center for Mathematical Philosophy
The Moving Frontier: How Quantum Gravity became the Great Unsolved Problem of Modern Physics
May 2013
Seven Pines Symposium XVII
Quantum Field Theory in the 1940s and 50s
25 February 2013
DPG Spring Conference, Jena
The Density Matrix The Story of a Failed Transfer
13 December 2012
Utrecht University
A Brief History of Quantum Gravity
1 November 2012
5th ESHS Conference, Athens
Solving European Problems in the US: The Infrared Divergence
5 June 2012
General Relativity and Gravitation – 50 years after Jabłonna, Warsaw
Feynman in Jabłonna: Quantum Theory of Gravitation
12 May 2012
New Directions in the Foundations of Physics, Washington, DC (with Christoph Lehner)
The limits of correspondence: How the methods of quantum mechanics proved insufficient in electrodynamics (1925-1932)
30 September 2011
Universities in Central Europe, Prague (with Dieter Hoffmann and Jürgen Renn)
At the Crossroads: Einstein and Prague
30 July 2011
American Institute of Physics, College Park, MD
Vacuum Polarization - A Case Study of an Infinite Quantity in Early Quantum Field Theory
Teaching activities
Seminar on Sources in the Development of Quantum Mechanics at FU Berlin Physics Department (with Christoph Lehner)
Several Tutorials on Experimental Physics (Atomic, Nuclear, Particle, Environmental Physics, Optics, Quantum Mechanics) at the Ruprecht-Karls-Universität Heidelberg


Max Planck Institute for the History of Science 
Boltzmannstraße 22 
14195 Berlin