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Matthias Heymann


Current research projects

Research Network "Challenging Europe: Technology, Environment and the Quest for Resource Security (EurReS)"

Coordinator: Matthias Heymann
Financed by the Independent Research Fund Denmark, 2018-2021

The EurReS Network consists of international researchers from 10 countries. It is part of the Tensions of Europe Research Group on Environment, Technology and Resources (see https://www.tensionsofeurope.eu/technology-environment-and-resources/). It is open to all interested researchers. Workshops and conferences are planned in Aarhus, Paris, Lisbon and St. Petersburg.

Scope and relevance

It aims to develop an innovative, transnational research framework for the his­to­rical investigation of natural resource challenges in Europe. It will focus on resource perceptions and imaginaries, resource geographies and global resource cycles, resource technologies and poli­cies and the environmental, social and political impacts of resource extraction and use in a transna­tional perspective. It brings together historians from different historical disciplines and specialties from more than 10 European countries. The research network wishes to respond to contemporary resource challenges and has the major goal to deepen the understanding of the historical roots of resource perceptions, policies and practices in Europe. Specific goals are the development of col­laborative research proposals and scholarly publications.


Past research projects

Shaping Cultures of Prediction: Knowledge, Authority and the Construction of Climate Change (2013-2017)

This project examines the emergence of climate modeling as a culture of prediction in the formative period between ca. 1960 and 1985. Climate modeling has played a major role in forging a scientific consensus about climatic change. Scientific consensus, however, tends to hide the social relations, complex negotiations and tangible interests behind the consensus itself. It straightens the diversity of scientific perceptions and the complexities of historical processes that have shaped it.

This project aims at analyzing the scientific conflicts, social processes and underlying presumptions that contributed to (1) the emergence of climate modeling as a predominant research strategy, and (2) the controversial application of these models as predictive tools. It will show how climate modeling and its uses emerged from a competition between different knowledge claims and epistemic standards and attained hegemonic status within a diversity of knowledge cultures.

Research team:
Aarhus University: Matthias Heymann (project-leader), Janet Martin-Nielsen, Dania Achermann, Gabriel Henderson

Mike Hulme and Martin Mahoney, Kings College London
Sverker Sörlin and Nina Wormbs, KTH Stockholm
Gregory Good, Center for History of Physics, College Park, USA

For more information see: http://css.au.dk/en/research/projects/cultures-of-prediction/

Climate | Culture | Catastrophe Network (2014-2017, leader Felix Riede)

The vision and mission of C3NET – the Climate | Culture | Catastrophe Network – is to bring together an interdisciplinary team of researchers concerned with the human impacts of climate change and extreme environmental events in the past – as well as in the present and future. C3NET aims to create and catalyze a Palaeoenvironmental Humanities research, education and outreach cluster at Aarhus University and beyond.

For more information see: http://c3net.au.dk

Exploring Greenland: Science and Technology in Cold War Settings (2010-2013)

The project has the goal to investigate the development of research activities in the geophysical sciences and in nuclear technology in Greenland in the Cold War period. It aims at exploring (1) which research activities were pursued and what results were achieved in the selected disciplines in Greenland in the Cold War period, (2) how research efforts were influenced by geopolitical, military, colonial or environmental interests and, vice versa, had an impact on these interests and (3) how research activities in Greenland were framed and com-municated to scientific and public audiences. The project consists of 8 subprojects.

Research team:
Aarhus University: Matthias Heymann (project-leader), Henrik Knudsen, Maiken L. Lolck, Kristian Hvidtfelt Nielsen, Henry Nielsen, Christopher J. Ries
Florida State University: Ronald E. Doel, Kristine C. Harper

For more information see: http://ivs.au.dk/en/research/greenland/

Atmospheric and Climate Modelling after WW II (2008-2014)

The atmospheric sciences received enormous attention in the years following WW ll, at the same time the practices, tasks and the knowledge in the atmospheric sciences changed dramatically. Computer modelling and simulation became essential and represented a new type of scientific activity, which even today has not been investigated in much detail. Which new scientific practices have been developed? What role did they play in the scientist’s quest for knowledge and evidence? How did this form of science contribute to the emergence of concern and anxiety about climate change?

A part of this effort is the ESF Exploratory Workshop "Exploring Epistemic Shifts in Computer Based Environmental Sciences", 10-12 June 2010. For more information see: http://ivs.au.dk/forskning/esfconference/

Research team: Matthias Heymann, Nils Randlev Hundebøl, Maiken Lykke Lolck

Revolutionary Visions and Fatal Failures: Hydrogen as an Energy Carrier (2007-2009)

After its discovery in 1783 hydrogen became an obsession for many scientists and engineers, who saw its potential to be used in a whole host of extremely interesting ways: human flight (with balloons and airships), electricity production (through the fuel cell), light and power generation (by burning hydrogen) or rocket and vehicle propulsion (using hydrogen as fuel). By the 1970s, the vision of a hydrogen society became common currency among researchers and politicians and a topic of public debate. So, for over 200 years enthusiasm about hydrogen enthusiasm brought about achievements and visions, but the story also had its failures and delusions. So, why hydrogen? And why the shattered dreams?
See book publication in German and English language.

Engineers, markets and visions: The rise of natural-gas liquefaction (2005-2007)

Natural gas is extracted from many deposits far away from the consumption centres, for example in countries like Algeria, Brunei, Venezuela or Nigeria. At one point it looked as if deep cooling and liquefaction of the gas would make it transportable as a fluid in ships. Liquified natural gas (LNG), however, proved to be a highly explosive fluid which laid a quarter in Cleveland, Ohio, into ashes in October 1944. Furthermore, the extreme cold put extreme mechanical stress on the metal storage tanks, which easily cracked. Some risky business undertakings in the deserts of Algeria and Libya, sophisticated tank technology and strangely shaped ships have finally – after three decades of technological drudgery – created a new global fuel infrastructure and enabled the cold liquid to flow to where it is used.
See book publication in German and English language.

'Art' and Science in 20th Century Technology (1998-2002)

This project, a contribution to the DFG-Sonderforschungsbereich 536 "Reflexive Modernization", investigates the tension between scientific approaches and practical personal knowledge in engineering design. The project analyzes methodological debates in engineering design in the German speaking countries since the mid-19th century. It pays particular attention to the relation of formal scientific knowledge and non-verbal, personal or tacit knowledge in engineering design as conceived by engineers. The goal of the project, an examination of the hypothesis of "reflexive modernization" in engineering design in the 1980s and 1990s, led to the broader perspective of a pendulum movement in engineering design methodology that has been swinging since the foundation of the discipline.
Book publication: "Kunst" und Wissenschaft in der Technik des 20. Jahrhunderts

"Tropospheric Air Pollution Problems since 1945" – TRAP45 (1998-2002)

In spite of an enormous growth in scientific and political efforts to abate air pollution since the 1950s effective air pollution control remains an unsolved problem. Abatement measures have provided local relief, but at the same time caused a shift of problems to trans- boundary acidification, photochemical smog, ozone depletion in the stratosphere and global climate change. As an attempt to investigate the difficulties of comprehensive and effective air pollution control strategies the international project TRAP45 was founded as a subproject of EUREKA-Project EUROTRAC-2.
Project information and conclusions
Detailed project description

Wind power use in the 20th century (1988-1992)

After initial enthusiasm over new technologies wind power quickly fell into economic insignificance in the 20th century. But in spite of the lack of financial support, interest in wind power remained high. The technology of wind energy converters experienced rapid advances and changed more quickly than ever before. The project analyzes the conditions and problems of wind power use in the 20th century and attempts to answer the following questions: Why was wind power not used though expectations remained high? And why was it Denmark which succeeded first in the renaissance of wind power in the late 20th and early 21st centuries?
Book publication: Die Geschichte der Windenergienutzung (out of print)
Review and content
Review in Technology and Culture