Max Planck Institute for The History of Science
  •  31
    The molecular vista: current perspectives on molecules and life in the twentieth century
    with Mathias Grote, Lisa Onaga, Angela N. H. Creager, Soraya de Chadarevian, Gina Surita, and Sarah E. Tracy
    History and Philosophy of the Life Sciences 43 (1): 1-18. 2021.
    This essay considers how scholarly approaches to the development of molecular biology have too often narrowed the historical aperture to genes, overlooking the ways in which other objects and processes contributed to the molecularization of life. From structural and dynamic studies of biomolecules to cellular membranes and organelles to metabolism and nutrition, new work by historians, philosophers, and STS scholars of the life sciences has revitalized older issues, such as the relationship of l…Read more
  •  382
    The Artificial Cell, the Semipermeable Membrane, and the Life that Never Was, 1864–1901
    Historical Studies in the Natural Sciences 49 (5): 504-555. 2019.
    Since the early nineteenth century a membrane or wall has been central to the cell’s identity as the elementary unit of life. Yet the literally and metaphorically marginal status of the cell membrane made it the site of clashes over the definition of life and the proper way to study it. In this article I show how the modern cell membrane was conceived of by analogy to the first “artificial cell,” invented in 1864 by the chemist Moritz Traube (1826–1894), and reimagined by the plant physiologist …Read more
  •  138
    Heads and Tails: Molecular Imagination and the Lipid Bilayer, 1917–1941
    In Karl Matlin, Jane Maienschein & Manfred Laubichler (eds.), Visions of Cell Biology: Reflections Inspired by Cowdry's General Cytology, University of Chicago Press. pp. 209-245. 2018.
    Today, the lipid bilayer structure is nearly ubiquitous, taken for granted in even the most rudimentary introductions to cell biology. Yet the image of the lipid bilayer, built out of lipids with heads and tails, went from having obscure origins deep in colloid chemical theory in 1924 to being “obvious to any competent physical chemist” by 1935. This chapter examines how this schematic, strictly heuristic explanation of the idea of molecular orientation was developed within colloid physical chem…Read more
  •  169
    This is the synthetic biology that is (review)
    Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part C: Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences 63 89-93. 2017.
    Review of: Sophia Roosth, Synthetic: How Life Got Made (University of Chicago Press, 2017); and Andrew S. Balmer, Katie Bulpin, and Susan Molyneux-Hodgson, Synthetic Biology: A Sociology of Changing Practices (Palgrave Macmillan, 2016).
  •  89
    The Cell and Protoplasm as Container, Object, and Substance, 1835–1861
    Journal of the History of Biology 50 (4): 889-925. 2017.
    (Recipient of the 2020 Everett Mendelsohn Prize.) This article revisits the development of the protoplasm concept as it originally arose from critiques of the cell theory, and examines how the term “protoplasm” transformed from a botanical term of art in the 1840s to the so-called “living substance” and “the physical basis of life” two decades later. I show that there were two major shifts in biological materialism that needed to occur before protoplasm theory could be elevated to have equal sta…Read more