Feinkornzone von im Vakuum verschweissten Armco-Eisenstäben. Aus: "Schweissversuche mit Elektronenstrahlen von Weichstahl- und Armco-Eisenstäben" (A.F.I.F. für Balzers AG, 1962). ETH-Hochschularchiv.


History of the productive void (ca. 1940-1980)

How did the untouchable void become the measurable and usable vacuum?

This project in the history of technology and science examines this change. It conceives of vacuum as productive emptiness - as a technically manufactured state that produces effects: new visual perspectives and possibilities of control, markets and disciplines, time and exclusivity.

A history of the productive void narrates the history of the changes in its factors of production and its products. It observes increases, shifts, and differentiations in the productivity of the vacuum. Such a history relegates the question about the nature of the void to the background and is orthogonal to the steep career of pumps and highest vacua. It orients itself towards the radical processuality of the vacuum, in order to historize it.

The project follows the conjunctures of the productive void between 1940 and 1980. It focuses on places in which different actors worked on the compatibility between emptiness and matter. On periscope lenses, in simulation chambers, university laboratories or international conferences, in specialized catalogs of vacuum companies and in the tables of the ISO. Vacuum came into being, was effective, kept manipulable and broke down again and again. In the process, it produced questions, reconfigured problems, and offered unexpected solutions until it disappeared into quiet normality.

The foundation of the study is formed by sources from archives in Europe and in the USA, in particular the National Archives in Washington, the archive of the company OC Balzers, the ETH University Archives and the archive of CERN.


- 2023. "High Vacuum", in: Simon Denny, Timon Beyes, Robin Holt, Claus Pias, Bettina Steinbrügge (Hg.). Proof of Stake: Claims to Technology. A Book of Organizational Objects. Milano: Lenz Press, 166-170.



- - "Mond im Vakuum. Leere aufbewahren und Zukunft produzieren". Leakage - STS Germany, Inaugural Conference, TU Dresden, 19-22. March 2024.

- "Mit nichts unterwegs. Vakuumtechnologie im Transfer um 1945." Technik im Nationalsozialismus. Jahrestagung der Gesellschaft für Technikgeschichte, Nordhausen, KZ-Gedenkstätte Mittelbau-Dora, 20.-22. Mai 2022.

- "Coordinating the void. On the foundation of the Swiss Society for Vacuum Physics and Technology", Swiss Vacuum Society, November 4, 2021.

- "Vakuum. Eine dünne Geschichte". Institut für Geschichte, Karlsruher Institut für Technologie (KIT), January 23, 2020.



- "Producing Emptiness and Working with Nothing. Vacuum Technology in the 20th Century", Seminar FS 2021, ETH Zürich (with D. Gugerli).