Allington Fellow, 2011-2012
Pedro Ruiz-Castell is an assistant professor in history of science at the University of Valencia in Spain. He was awarded a D.Phil. in history of science at the University of Oxford in 2006, with a thesis entitled “Astronomy and Astrophysics in Spain (1850–1914).”
Ruiz-Castell worked for several years as head of the Department of Research and Documentation at the Spanish National Museum of Science and Technology in Madrid. He also spent two years as a postdoctoral research fellow in the Centre d’Història de la Ciència, at the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona.
His research and publications have focused on the history of physics and allied sciences in the 19th and 20th centuries, science in the public sphere, and scientific instruments.
Ruiz-Castell also holds an M.Sc. in history of science: instruments, museums, science technology from the University of Oxford and an M.Phil. in history of science and medicine from the University of Valencia.
Ruiz-Castell is currently studying the origins and the development of the electron microscope. He is particularly interested in the period in which the new instrument emerged as a promising tool with many potential uses and applications in different fields engaged with the study and understanding of microscopical structures. His aim is to problematize the traditional narrative linked to the historical origins and evolution of the electron microscope, exploring the role of nonacademic science, in particular the role of industrial analysis of inorganic materials.
The promising industrial applications of the electron microscope during its early years meant an increasing interest in the potential uses of electron microscopy to a wide range of fields, including biomedical research and other uses and applications, some of them particularly relevant to the war effort in the 1940s. The new technology soon captivated the interest of a new community of users concerned with the study of such materials as textile fibers, metals, pottery, semi-synthetics and plastics. Therefore, the development of electron microscopy was pursued not only by academic scientists but also by engineers, metallurgists, industrial chemists, hospital physicists, and so on. This heterogeneous group of people shaped the development of electron microscopy, introducing new specimen-preparation techniques and unifying how to interpret the photographic results obtained under the new instrument. By the end of World War II the electron microscope was conceived as a potentially powerful tool by a new community of users, some of them particularly concerned with problems on the frontiers of structural physics, physical chemistry, and fundamental physiology. This new community helped gradually consolidate electron microscopy in scientific research during the second half of the 20th century. In particular, such industries as the chemical industry played a prominent role in the process of negotiation and compromise with the established knowledge, a role that has been noted but not explored in depth by historians of science.
Ruiz-Castell also aims to explore several aspects related not only to the practice of science but also to the establishment, commercialization, and popularization of the electron microscope, which required the interaction not only of academic scientists of different fields but also industrial engineers, politicians, private firms and businessmen, newspapers, mass media, and the general public. All of them were captivated by aspects, such as the huge potential, that this new instrument seemed to have and an increasing curiosity about what could be expected from it.
Some recent publications
“Priority Claims and Public Disputes in Astronomy: E. Antoniadi and J. Comas i Solà, and the Search for Authority and Social Prestige in the Early Twentieth Century.” British Journal for the History of Science (2011) [DOI: 10.1017/S0007087410001536].
Astronomy and Astrophysics in Spain (1850–1914) (Newcastle, U.K.: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2008).
“Scientific Instruments for Education in Early Twentieth-Century Spain.” Annals of Science 65 (2008), 519–527.
With J. Simón, N. Herrán, T. Lanuza, and X. Guillem, eds. Beyond Borders: Fresh Perspectives in History of Science (Newcastle, U.K.: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2008).
Microscopios: Catálogo del Museo Nacional de Ciencia y Tecnología (Madrid: Ministerio de Educación y Ciencia, 2007).
Institut d’Història de la Medicina i de la Ciència ‘López Piñero’
Universitat de València - CSIC
Plaça Cisneros, 4
46003 València (Spain)