This paper examines the history of the renormalization group, a cornerstone of contemporary theoretical physics, focusing on the work of Kenneth Wilson (winner of the 1982 Nobel Prize in physics) and affiliated scholars in the 1970s. In particular, it reconstructs how studies of the renormalization group led to formative interactions between two distinct branches of physics, namely particle physics and condensed matter theory. Instead of explaining such intellectual coordination as the result of material and conceptual exchanges, as in Peter Galison’s widely influential discussion of the “trading zone,” my analysis emphasizes the pedagogical labor, social institutions, and political economic conditions that gave the renormalization group its mediating power. To that end, I show how early lectures and fast circulating pre-prints on the renormalization group created a population of physicists in the United States conversant in the rudiments of both condensed matter and particle theory. I then root the formation of a transatlantic network of renormalization group enthusiasts in the geopolitics of the Cold War, showing that the spread of Wilsonian ideas was made possible by a liberal internationalist program of academic exchanges and summer schools sponsored by the US state department and NATO. Finally, I argue that sharp cuts to basic science funding in the United States pushed young physicists seeking jobs in the 1970s to work across specializations, which visibly impacted how renormalization group ideas were interpreted and used—often against the objections of their original progenitors.

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