April 30, 2013

Benjamin Gross

The Rise of the Digital Indicator: A Story in Seven Segments

Chemical Heritage Foundation, Brown Bag Lecture | Visit site »

Time: 12:00pm
Location: Chemical Heritage Foundation

During the latter half of the 20th century analog gauges, meters, and timepieces gave way to digital devices, which promised to simplify measurement while simultaneously offering a greater degree of precision. This transition depended on the replacement of mechanical components with electronics, including the invention of new information-display techniques. Although reliant on a variety of electro-optic effects, the majority of these readouts shared a common form: the seven-segment numeric indicator. The simple appearance of this now familiar technology belies the complex research underlying its incorporation into wristwatches, calculators, and household appliances. This talk reconstructs the origins of the seven-segment indicator and how the discovery of new solid-state phenomena facilitated its proliferation. It will also address the social and economic factors that prompted corporations in the United States, Soviet Union, and Japan to embrace different forms of numeric indicator and the extent to which these devices have transformed popular conceptions of accuracy and expertise.

Benjamin Gross is the 2012–2013 Cain Postdoctoral Fellow. His research concentrates on corporate innovation and the history of the American electronics industry. His dissertation, which he is currently revising into a book, explored the development of the first liquid-crystal display devices by scientists at the Radio Corporation of America. He previously served as the 2009–2010 Price Dissertation in Polymer History and the 2011–2012 Fellow for Sustainability in Innovation at CHF’s Center for Contemporary History and Policy. He earned a Ph.D. in the history of science from Princeton University.

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