Chemical Weapons Research in Dahlem: ‘Big Science’ but in what Form
There is a growing consensus amongst historians that the research carried out under Fritz Haber that provided the scientific component of the German chemical warfare effort was a form of “big science.” Though historians of science have broadened its usage, the term big science originated as a means of characterizing the military-academic-industrial research complexes that developed during the Second World War in the United States. This derivation clearly plays a role in use of the term to describe chemical weapons research at Haber’s institute in Dahlem, as noted historian Fritz Stern formulated the connection “Haber’s ever-expanding organization became a kind of Manhattan Project before its time.” In many respects, particularly those related to the scale of research and its military orientation, the analogy is apt. But Haber’s efforts were not unique in this. As historians have dug deeper into the activities of scientists during the First World War, in all of the belligerent nations, they have unearthed a growing number of “forerunners” of big science. Taking this into account offers us the opportunity to go beyond the big science/little science dichotomy and characterize more precisely the nature of the research and the research organization in Dahlem, both by highlighting those aspects in which it differed from later military-academic-industrial complexes and by comparing it to contemporary, transitional research organizations in other locations.