NOTE: I will be on leave from UCSB from 1 July 2015 until the start of the Fall 2016 quarter; I’ll be in Washington DC as the Lindbergh Chair at the National Air and Space Museum.
I research and teach about the history of technology and science in the 20th century. For more information about me and my work, see my off-UCSB website. It also is the home of my blog, Leaping Robot.
I have several new projects underway. I recently started writing a new book for The MIT Press called Re-Wiring Art. It looks at art-technology collaborations during the 1960s-90s with the focus being the perspective & experience of engineers and scientists who paired up with artists. Connected to this, I have a courtesy appointment with UCSB’s Media Arts and Technology program.
As a follow-up to an earlier book, I’m looking at how astronomers’ view of the night sky changed from an era of photographic plates to one mediated by digital technologies.
Finally, with UCSB graduate student Brian Tyrrell, I’m exploring the emergence of the “DNA nanotechnology” community; the focus is how scientists and artists have taken this iconic molecule and transformed it from a “blueprint” to “bricks” they could use to bioengineer objects on the nanoscale.
- Groovy Science: Science, Technology, and American Counterculture (Chicago, 2016). Co-edited with David Kaiser, this collection of essays challenges the idea that the counterculture was anti-science. Some reviews are here and here.
- The Visioneers: How a Group of Elite Scientists Pursued Space Colonies, Nanotechnologies, and a Limitless Future (Princeton, 2013). Winner of 2014 Watson Davis and Helen Miles Davis Prize (History of Science Society) and the 2012 Eugene E. Emme Award for Astronautical Literature (American Astronautical Society).
- Keep Watching the Skies! The Story of Operation Moonwatch and the Dawn of the Space Age (Princeton University Press, 2008). My third book tells how citizen scientists helped track the world’s first satellites.
- Giant Telescopes: Astronomical Ambitions and the Promise of Technology, (Harvard University Press, 2004). This book was super-fun to research; I got to spend nights at major observatories in the U.S. and overseas.
- Glassmaking in Renaissance Venice: The Fragile Craft, (Ashgate Press, 1999). My first book presented the history of Venetian glassmaking from a consumer’s point of view and drew upon a rich array of material culture.
Recent and Forthcoming Articles:
- “The Biggest Data of All: Making and Sharing a Digital Universe,” forthcoming in Osiris, 2017.
- “Gravity and Geese,” Leonardo, 2015. Looks at work of German artist Agnes Meyer-Brandis & connections to a 17th century science fiction story.
- “How Astronomers Digitized the Sky,” Technology and Culture 55, 4 (2014): 908-944. Title says it all…
- “’Globalization with Hardware’”: ITER’s Fusion of Technology, Policy, and Politics,” History and Technology, 26, 4 (2010): 281-310. Fusion scientists in Europe created a transnational research community as they planned their “next big machine.”
- “From Lab to iPod: A Story of Discovery and Commercialization in the Post-Cold War Era,” Technology and Culture, 50, 1 (2009): 58-81. How did a physics discovery made in 1988 end up in your iPod? [a shorter version of this is in January 2009 issue of Nature Nanotechnology.]
- “Amateur Scientists, the International Geophysical Year, and the Ambitions of Fred Whipple.” Isis 97, 4 (2006): 634-658.
Tells of the hurdles astronomer Fred Whipple overcame to persuade his colleagues that amateurs could contribute to the IGY.
- “Will Small Be Beautiful? Making Policies for Our Nanotech Future.” History and Technology 21, 2 (2005): 177-203.
Although somewhat dated already, this essay lays out the basic path for how the U.S. government decided to spend billions on nanotech research.
My research informs my teaching. I offer a variety of undergraduate and graduate courses including:
- Science and the Modern World (History 20)
- The Atomic Age (History 105A)
- The Space Age (History 105B)
- The Information Age (History 105C)
- Technology and Modern America (History 109T)
- Science and Modern America (History 109S)
In addition, I teach some more specialized small-enrollment undergraduate courses as well as graduate readings and research seminars.
Honors and Professional Activities:
- Lindbergh Chair, 2015-16, National Air and Space Museum, Smithsonian Institution.
- 2014 Watson Davis and Helen Miles Davis Prize, History of Science Society for The Visioneers as best book that “promotes public understanding of the history of science.”
- Elected Fellow; American Association for the Advancement of Science (2011) and American Physical Society (2013)
- Eleanor Searle Visiting Professor, History of Science, California Institute of Technology, 2011-12.
- Collaborative Research Fellowship (2010-2011) from the American Council of Learned Societies.
- Senior Research Fellow, Institut Méditerranéen de Recherches Avancées; 2010.
- Co-Principal Investigator for UCSB’s Center for Nanotechnology in Society. The CNS was a ten year, multi-million dollar initiative (2016-2016) funded by the National Science Foundation to support humanities and social science research on emerging technologies.
- I am currently on the editorial boards of Isis and Osiris.
In the News
- The podcast series 99% Invisible used some of my Visioneers book as the basis for a June 2016 episode.
- In 2016, the World Economic Forum brought me to Davos, Switzerland to talk about about science, technology, and innovation. Some coverage of this is here and here.
- I’ve appeared on the national radio program Science Friday; links are here and here.
- A blog post I wrote became a piece for The Chronicle of Higher Ed.
- In 2013, I had a fun conversation with NPR’s Richard Harris about the pace of scientific discovery.