My office hours are Mondays from 2-3:30 PM or by appointment.
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 which is also the home of my occasional blog, Leaping Robot. (Note: I’ve put the blog into hibernation until I finish my new book project)
I have several new projects underway. The main one is a new book for The MIT Press called Art Re-Wired. In it, I’m looking at several art-technology collaborations during the 1960s-90s with the focus being the activities and experiences of the engineers and scientists who paired up with artists. Connected to this, I have a courtesy appointment with UCSB’s Media Arts and Technology program.
I like to connect my historical research to contemporary issues. In 2018, I’ll be helping organize a workshop in Silicon Valley around the question, “What’s at Stake in a 4th Industrial Revolution?” Our goal is to chart a more credible course between the technological hype focused on producing investment opportunities, and alarmist predictions about the disappearance of work as we know it. We would hope to encourage an interdisciplinary research agenda that will also stimulate awareness around issues involving labor, gender, and technological change.
Finally, I maintain an interest in a number of topics including: science and technology in the Cold War; the intersection of modern science with new technologies including computers and data handling; and the history of so-called “emerging technologies.”
- 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, etc. are here, here, and here. Our local NPR station also did a story on it.
- 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,” in Data Histories, volume 32 of Osiris (2017): 243-263; continues story of astronomers’ interaction with Big Data.
- “Gravity and Geese,” Leonardo, 2017. Looks at German artist Agnes Meyer-Brandis & her connections to a 17th century science fiction story.
- “How Astronomers Digitized the Sky,” Technology and Culture 55, 4 (2014): 908-944. The 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?
- “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.
- A full list of my publications and other research activities can be found on my c.v.
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)
- Machines, People, and Politics: Histories of Modern Technologies (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:
- Co-PI on grant from Canadian Institute for Advanced Research for 2018 workshop exploring societal dimensions of the “4th Industrial Revolution.”
- 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.”
- Fellow; American Association for the Advancement of Science (elected 2011) and American Physical Society (elected 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 that supported interdisciplinary research on emerging technologies. My working group’s final report is here.
- I am currently on the editorial boards of Isis, Osiris and Technology and Culture.
In the News
- I wrote an essay in 2016 about the “cult of innovation” & the need to re-think our histories of technology for Aeon which got some airtime.
- In 2016 and 2017, the World Economic Forum invited me to Davos, Switzerland to talk about science, technology, and innovation. Some coverage of this is here, here, and here.
- The podcast series 99% Invisible used some of my Visioneers book as the basis for a June 2016 episode.
- I sometimes write things for non-academic venues such as:
- Science Friday invited me to do some live radio in 2015 and 2016; links are here and here.
- In 2013, I had a fun conversation with NPR’s Richard Harris about the pace of scientific discovery.