Evan Hepler-Smith

Evan Hepler-Smith

Evan Hepler-Smith

Herdegen Dissertation Fellow

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.

In my dissertation, “Nominally Rational: Systematic Nomenclature and the Structures of Organic Chemistry,” I explore how early 20th-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 words, 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.

I am currently a doctoral candidate in the Program in History of Science at Princeton University. I will spend the year 2013–2014 in Philadelphia as Herdegen Fellow at the Chemical Heritage Foundation. I’m also a member of the Authentication in Art Working Group on the History of Connoisseurship and Scientific Examination.

I graduated from Harvard College in 2006 with an A.B. in literature. I subsequently marketed collectible figurines, tutored high-school students and graduate-school applicants, and built LSAT and GMAT courses for an online education startup before beginning my graduate work at Princeton.

In addition to my dissertation I’m also pursuing ongoing research projects on:

  • Computer automation and the role of creativity and logic in scientific reasoning, particularly in synthetic organic chemistry.
  • The history of “scientific examination” of artworks, particularly the use of X-rays in the authentication and criticism of paintings.
  • The motif of “working backwards” across a variety of fields and contexts.
  • The role of physical sciences in pre-medical education.



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