The 1950s: the decade in which gravity physics became experimental (Vol. 48 No. 1)

Experimental tests from a hundred years ago that compare the gravitational accelerations of different kinds of material

History shows experiments to be just as key as theory in gravity physics In the 1950s and earlier, the gravity theory of Einstein's general relativity was largely a theoretical science. In a new paper published recently, the author shares a historical account of how the experimental study of gravity evolved.

This review examines the broad range of new approaches initiated in the late 1950s, following through to the transition of experimental gravity physics to become a normal and accepted part of physical science in the late 1960s. Highlighting the importance of advances in technology in changing the lines of investigation in the field, it also emphasises the need for physical theories to be empirically tested, because experience shows that this can yield surprising results. In this context, the review examines the role of scientists such as the US physicist Robert Dicke in changing the former perspective. At that time, Dicke made the mid-career decision to lead a research group dedicated to the experimental study of gravity, following new research directions inspired by old arguments associated with Ernst Mach and Paul Dirac.

P.J.E. Peebles, Robert Dicke and the naissance of experimental gravity physics, 1957-1967, Eur. Phys. J. H, (2016)