【UTCP Juventus】NAKAO Maika

7 September, 2009 NAKAO Maika, UTCP Juventus

Brief introduction of my current research.

I am a Ph.D. student at the University of Tokyo. My areas of specialization are “history of science” and “science studies”. I am interested in the relationship between science and culture in modern Japan.

I have been studying the images of the atomic bomb in Japan before its first bombing on Hiroshima: how physicists had been thinking about it, how scientific knowledge which related to the bomb came to be known, how a discourse on the atomic weapon was disseminated in the public media, and how the weapon was imagined in fiction, and so on. To seek why these images which I investigated were created, I am now working on the following themes.

*War and scientists

The possibility of the atomic bomb had been discussed in many ways from the end of the 19th century (when dramatic investigations on nuclear physics were launched) to 1945 (when the atomic bombs were complete). This period also see the trend toward fascism and militarism in Japan as well as in other countries.

During this period, science and war had gradually been connected. For a symbolic example, the Second Konoe Cabinet in 1940 included in its agenda a policy of promoting science and technology (Kagaku Gijutsu Shinko Hosaku). It emphasized the popularization of science and technology, represented by the slogan “the scientification of life” (Seikatsu no Kagakuka). Following such a trend toward the promotion of science and technology, a series of science magazines began publication at the end of 1941.

My first research is to examine how scientists told their research agendas to the public while science became an important factor for national defense and the wisdom of scientists was needed for it. It is often said that scientists were passively involved in the war or reluctant to accept military research for keeping young scientists from going to the battlefield. These explanations are prima facie plausible, but they are not necessarily the case. When we look over and read publications such as science magazines at that time, scientists became popular along with the warfare. Historians of science in the past have not paid much attention to these discourses on public media. So I am trying to figure out how scientists became conscious of presenting science.

Moreover, the ideological role of natural science called various scholars’ attention at that time. There were many definitions of “science.” I also want to examine the values and meanings of science among scientists and intellectuals while “science” is regarded an important thing.

*Science and Weapons in Fiction

My second research is to explore the representation of science and technology in fictions. The idea of the atomic bomb also appeared in several science-fiction novels. The SF writer H.G. Wells published The World Set Free in 1914. He described atomic weapons as finally putting an end to war. The physicist Leo Szilard was inspired by Wells’s book when thinking of atomic energy. This is often mentioned as a case where imagination preceded technology.

There were also such novels in Japan that dealt with the idea of the atomic bomb. The SF writer Juzo Unno used the notion of “atomic transformation” in his 1927 short novel “The Broadcast of Last Words” (Yuigon-jo Hoso). He also wrote about a nuclear submarine in 1940, as well as an atomic weapon in 1944. Unno was eager to gather new information about science and technology from overseas to inspire his writings.

The depiction of science and technology in popular media can be regarded as reflecting the public image of science and technology at that time. During wartime, there were many superweapons appeared in fiction. I am trying to figure out how these weapons had been depicted and seek to dynamics behind the stories.

My future task is to deepen the above themes and examine them together. I am planning to write my doctoral dissertation from the Kyurigaku boom in the Meiji era to the emergence of the atomic bomb from the perspective of “popularization of science,” particularly, physics. In it, I would like to think about the changing role of scientists, the genealogy of useful discourses on science, and popular images of science.


I am also studying the brain images in Japanese medicine advertisements. I will give a talk on this problem at the annual meeting of 4S (Society for Social Studies of Science)in Washington D.C. on October 2009. We plan to publish this paper as a contribution to the special booklet as a research outcome of the “Brain Sciences and Ethics” education program at the UTCP (University of Tokyo Center for Philosophy).

Furthermore, I am interested in the relationship between political thinking and scientific thinking of a scientist and the way of assimilation of science and traditional culture in the museum. As describe above, my interest is in between science and culture, fiction and reality, and so on. By investigating how discourses on science are circulated in society and what twist arises as a result, I would like to consider the images of science and their meanings as well as our desire.

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