Scientific instruments as knowledge transmitters in innovation networks

Christian Forstner (Ernst-Haeckel-Haus, Friedrich Schiller University Jena) 

In 1905 Fritz Haber (1868-1934) approached the Zeiss company in Jena, with a request for an instrument that could be used to quickly and easily determine gas concentrations within 0.02%. In close collaboration with Haber the later head of the Zeiss’ measuring instruments department Fritz Löwe (1874-1955) developed two different types of analytical interferometers: one for the academic laboratory and a more robust mobile one. The analytical interferometers were used in chemical laboratories, the chemical industry, medicine, food control and mining.

The interferometers were adapted to the needs of different users from different parts of society, like industry, academia, and government. It was crucial for the innovation process that Löwe organized regular user trainings on an international level from 1921 onwards. In these courses different uses and applications of interferometers and other instruments like spectroscopes and refractometers were taught. These courses helped Löwe to build up a network between lead users and instrument makers. In intensive exchange within this network, the Zeiss company accelerated knowledge circulation by the exchange instruments and different form of non-verbal knowledge, which is bound to these instruments. Connecting the concept of research technologies with innovation history the talk starts bottom up with the analysis of the interferometers, which are understood as dynamically changing knowledge carriers in a circulation process between different parts of society and asks how the actors actively promoted these changes.