Program: History of Science
Fields of Study: Modern Science
Advisor: Michael Gordin
I am a historian of modern science with research interests in the histories of chemistry, medicine (especially medical and premedical pedagogy), digitization and computing, and the links between art and science. My current focus is the relationship between the way scientists represent their objects of study, the material configuration of their instruments and texts, and the modes of reasoning that they present as proper to their field. What makes a good name, diagram, or symbolic expression? How should a textbook, database, or enquiry be structured? What does it mean to think chemically, computationally, scientifically? My goal is to draw out the complex and historically contingent interdependencies among these questions.
I'm currently a doctoral candidate in the Program in History of Science at Princeton University. I graduated from Harvard College in 2006 with an A.B. in Literature. In between, I marketed collectible figurines, tutored high school students and graduate school applicants, and built LSAT and GMAT courses for an online education startup.
Mailing address: Princeton University Department of History, 129 Dickinson Hall, Princeton NJ 08544
In my dissertation, “Nominally Rational: Systematic Nomenclature and the Structures of Organic Chemistry,” I explore how early twentieth-century chemists proposed, adapted, and critiqued standardized “rational names” for organic substances. I contend that debates over chemical names, which centered on whether and how to translate diagrammatic structural formulae into names, reflected and shaped chemists’ assumptions about organic chemical identity. These assumptions, both lexical (what an organic chemical substance should be called) and ontological (what an organic chemical substance is), have exerted a broad influence, from the form of electronic databases of chemical information, to the physical analytic instruments adopted by midcentury chemists, to standardized tests used to evaluate student proficiency in chemical reasoning.
In addition to my dissertation, I'm also pursuing ongoing research projects on:
- Maximilian Toch, a paint manufacturer, captain of chemical society, World War I camoufleur, and pioneer of forensic art authentication in early twentieth-century New York.
- The relationship between automation and scientific reasoning, particularly in synthetic organic chemistry.
- The motif of "working backwards" across a variety of fields and contexts.
- The role of basic sciences in pre-professional (especially pre-medical) training.
- Cerveaux, Augustin, and Evan Hepler-Smith. “Quest for Permanence.” Chemical Heritage (forthcoming Spring 2013).
- “Inventing Chemistry: Herman Boerhaave and the Reform of the Chemical Arts by John C. Powers,” Endeavour (forthcoming 2013).
Recent Papers Delivered
- “Retrosynthetic Analysis: How Chemists Learned to Think Like Computers,” Society for the History of Technology Annual Meeting, Copenhagen, October 2012, in session “Made in Automation,” organized by Stephanie Dick.
- “Standards Bound to Disappoint: A Rational Chemical Nomenclature Defeated,” History of Science Society Annual Meeting, Cleveland, Ohio, November 2011, in session “Defending Science Against Standardization,” organized by Evan Hepler-Smith.
- “The Deception Expert: Maximilian Toch’s Science of Authentication,” Chemical Heritage Foundation, Philadelphia, PA, October 2011.
- “‘An Ensemble as Euphonic as Possible’: Thinking Through Organic Nomenclature, 1889-1898,” 8th International Conference on History of Chemistry, Rostock, Germany, September 2011.
Last updated March, 2013.