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The research catalogue is an archive of ESRC-funded grants and outputs. Links, files and other content will no longer be maintained or updated after April 2014.

The nuclear engineer: shaping a profession

The nuclear engineer emerged as a new kind of technical specialist in the late 1940s in response to government initiatives around the world to develop atomic energy. The identity of these specialists – forming an unusually closed, state-allied discipline – was shaped in the context of post-war politics and energy programmes, and evolved along with popular perception of their subject over the following fifty years.

Nuclear engineers as a specialist community were also unusual in representing a social ‘step-function’: the technology coalesced rapidly after the war and engendered professional aspirations from those diverted to work in the newly invented field. This sudden event permits precise study of the social and cultural ramifications of interest for the sociology of the professions, history of technology and cultural history. 

A comparative analysis of different national experiences in Britain, America and Canada will help elucidate the distinct political and economic factors operative in those contexts. The differing accounts of this new field generated by its practitioners, sponsors, historians and curatorial interpreters are also of considerable historiographical interest. This project will study the birth, consolidation and subsequent mutation of nuclear engineers in the first three countries where they practiced with the aim of better understanding how new disciplines and professions become established.