109 episodes

A new public events series from the Consortium for History of Science, Technology and Medicine brings historical perspective to contemporary issues and concerns.

In the public forums, historians and other specialists speak about culturally relevant topics in front of a live audience at Consortium member institutions. Forum subjects range from medical consumerism to public trust in science and technology. Videos of these events are also available at chstm.org.

In podcast episodes, authors of new books in the history of science, technology, and medicine respond to questions from readers with a wide variety of backgrounds and expertise. These conversations illuminate the utility and relevance of the past in light of current events.

Perspectives on Science Consortium for History of Science, Technology and Medicine

    • Education
    • 5.0 • 5 Ratings

A new public events series from the Consortium for History of Science, Technology and Medicine brings historical perspective to contemporary issues and concerns.

In the public forums, historians and other specialists speak about culturally relevant topics in front of a live audience at Consortium member institutions. Forum subjects range from medical consumerism to public trust in science and technology. Videos of these events are also available at chstm.org.

In podcast episodes, authors of new books in the history of science, technology, and medicine respond to questions from readers with a wide variety of backgrounds and expertise. These conversations illuminate the utility and relevance of the past in light of current events.

    DNA Papers 14: Matthew Meselson, Franklin Stahl, and semiconservative replication of DNA

    DNA Papers 14: Matthew Meselson, Franklin Stahl, and semiconservative replication of DNA

    The penultimate episode of the DNA Papers podcast series revisits a paper that demonstrated the semiconservative mode of DNA replication, which had been predicted by complementary base-paired double helix model of the molecule discussed in episode 13 of this series:

    Meselson, Matthew, and Franklin W. Stahl. “The replication of DNA in Escherichia coli.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 44, no. 7 (July 15, 1958): 671–82. https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.44.7.671

    The papers offers the details an experiment designed and performed by a pair of young molecular biologists, Matthew Meselson and Franklin Stahl at Caltech. They deployed the newly developed technique of density gradient centrifugation in combination with the use of heavy isotopes of nitrogen to show that during the replication of a DNA molecule, each progeny helix contained one strand that was conserved, or passed down directly from the parent and one new strand synthesized from the conserved template. Listen to our expert guests from different disciplines as they share their insights into what has been described as “the most beautiful experiment in biology”:

    Allan Franklin
    University of Colorado Boulder

    Michel Morange
    IHPST, Université Paris I

    William C. Summers
    Yale University

    Janina Wellmann
    Max Planck Institute for the History of Science

    Recorded on March 27, 2024
    For additional resources on this topic, please see https://www.chstm.org/video/144

    • 1 hr 1 min
    DNA Papers #13 - James Watson, Francis Crick, and the DNA Double Helix × Status message

    DNA Papers #13 - James Watson, Francis Crick, and the DNA Double Helix × Status message

    Rounding out the story begun in the previous installment, episode 13 of the DNA Papers centers on the publications in which the double helical structure for DNA was proposed, detailed, and its various implications speculated upon. It features four papers, all by Watson and Crick from Cambridge,. Together these papers not only proposed that DNA’s three dimensional structure was a double-stranded helix, but also described the antiparallel and complementary nature of its two component strands and the specific pairing of the component nucleotide bases, namely, the purines, A and G, with the pyrimidines T and C respectively. The papers also discussed the implications of these features for the fundamental functions of DNA.

    For more resources on this topic, see https://www.chstm.org/video/144.

    Recorded on Dec. 11, 2023.

    • 1 hr 2 min
    Donald L. Opitz - Daughters of Ceres

    Donald L. Opitz - Daughters of Ceres

    Don's book project, "Daughters of Ceres: The Scientific Advancement of Women in Horticulture, 1870–1920" examines the confluence of two 19th century movements—one dedicated to the promotion of scientific agriculture, another to the advancement of women's education in science. These movements fueled international efforts to elevate women's position in the fields of horticulture and "the lighter branches" of agriculture. This new international movement organized to create new educational, employment, and civic opportunities for women in fields traditionally constructed as male bastions. "Daughters of Ceres" will sketch out more fully the professional and civic-oriented sides to the advancement of women's education in horticulrure, accounting for the role of commercial industries, industrial associations, professional societies, garden clubs, philanthropic foundations, and educational and scientific institutions that, collectively, participated in an extensive network that undergirded this movement. The book will offer a new perspective on "women in science" with a repositioning of horticulture in the overall landscape of scientific disciplines.

    Recorded on December 19, 2023.

    For more resources on this topic, see https://www.chstm.org/video/180

    • 18 min
    Rena Selya — Salvador Luria: An Immigrant Biologist in Cold War America

    Rena Selya — Salvador Luria: An Immigrant Biologist in Cold War America

    In this episode, we speak with Rena Selya, the archivist at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center and author of Salvador Luria: An Immigrant Biologist in Cold War America.

    Blacklisted from federal funding review panels but awarded a Nobel Prize for his research on bacteriophage, biologist Salvador Luria (1912–1991) was as much an activist as a scientist. In this first full-length biography of Luria, Rena Selya draws on extensive archival research; interviews with Luria's family, colleagues, and students; and FBI documents obtained through the Freedom of Information Act to create a compelling portrait of a man committed to both science and society.

    In addition to his work with viruses and bacteria in the 1940s, Luria broke new ground in molecular biology and cancer research from the 1950s to the 1980s and was a leader in calling for scientists to accept an educational and advisory responsibility to the public. In return, he believed, the public should rely on science to strengthen social and political institutions.

    Luria was born in Italy, where the Fascists came to power when he was ten. He left Italy for France due to the antisemetic Race Laws of 1938, and then fled as a Jewish refugee from Nazi Europe, making his way to the United States. Once an American citizen, Luria became a grassroots activist on behalf of civil rights, labor representation, nuclear disarmament, and American military disengagement from the Vietnam and Gulf Wars. Luria joined the MIT faculty in 1960 and was the founding director of the Center for Cancer Research. Throughout his life he remained as passionate about his engagement with political issues as about his science, and continued to fight for peace and freedom until his death.

    Recorded on November 22, 2023.

    For more resources about this topic, please see https://www.chstm.org/video/178.

    • 24 min
    DNA Papers #12: Maurice Wilkins, Rosalind Franklin, and the double helix model for DNA structure

    DNA Papers #12: Maurice Wilkins, Rosalind Franklin, and the double helix model for DNA structure

    Episode 12 of the DNA Papers, is the first of a two-parter, which centers on papers published about the now iconic double helix structure of the DNA molecule. This episode features three publications, all published in the journal Nature, which represent the work of scientists working at King’s College London, whose X-ray crystallographic work provided some of the crucial data that supported the new double helix model.


    Wilkins, Maurice Hugh Frederick, Alec R. Stokes, and Herbert R. Wilson. “Molecular Structure of Nucleic Acids: Molecular Structure of Deoxypentose Nucleic Acids.” Nature 171, no. 4356 (1953): 738–40.
    Franklin, Rosalind E., and Raymond G. Gosling. “Molecular Configuration in Sodium Thymonucleate.” Nature 171, no. 4356 (1953): 740–41.
    Franklin, Rosalind E., and Raymond G. Gosling. “Evidence for 2-Chain Helix in Crystalline Structure of Sodium Deoxyribonucleate.” Nature 172 (1953): 156–57.

    Tune in to listen to our panel of experts in a lively and informative conversation about the place of these papers in the history of our understanding of DNA:

    Soraya de Chadarevian, University of California, Los Angeles
    Elspeth Garman, Oxford University
    Kersten Hall, University of Leeds
    Jan Witkowski, Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory

    See also a collection of Resources at https://www.chstm.org/video/144
    Closed captioning available on YouTube.
    Recorded on Nov. 6, 2023.

    • 1 hr 19 min
    Vandersommers - Entangled Encounters at the National Zoo: Stories from the Animal Archive

    Vandersommers - Entangled Encounters at the National Zoo: Stories from the Animal Archive

    In this episode of Perspectives, we speak with Daniel Vandersommers, author of Entangled Encounters at the National Zoo: Stories from the Animal Archive. In this book, Vandersommers shows how zoo animals always ran away from the zoo. This is meant literally—animals escaped frequently—but even more so, figuratively. Living, breathing, historical zoo animals ran away from their cultural constructions, and these constructions ran away from the living bodies they were made to represent. Vandersommers shows that the resulting gaps produced by runaway animals contain concealed, distorted, and erased histories worthy of uncovering.

    Entangled Encounters at the National Zoo also demonstrates how the popular zoology fostered by the National Zoo shaped every aspect of American science, culture, and conservation during the Gilded Age and Progressive Era. Between the 1880s and World War I, as intellectuals debated Darwinism and scientists institutionalized the laboratory, zoological parks suddenly appeared at the heart of nearly every major American city, captivating tens of millions of visitors. Vandersommers follows stories previously hidden within the National Zoo in order to help us reconsider the place of zoos and their inhabitants in the twenty-first century.

    For more resources on this topic, please see https://www.chstm.org/video/176.

    Recorded on October 31, 2023.

    • 25 min

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