Scientific Communities: They're Just Like Us!

Last week Sarah Hunter and I presented at the Oral History in the Mid-Atlantic Regional Conference. The theme of the conference was "Displacement and Community: Using Oral History to Document Transitions, Evolutions, and Adaptation." While most other presentations focused on communities people have heard of but may not know much about (New York City taxi drivers, community organizers in West Mount Airy, or cloistered nuns) Sarah and I were the only people who spoke about scientists and science.

Unsurprisingly, people weren't sure how to approach our topics (Mass Spectrometry and Scientific and Technical and Information Sciences). We attempted to demonstrate that these communities, like the others discussed at the conference, struggle with marginalization, displacement, and language and jargon barriers, as well as feelings of isolation and distrust. And, like all communities, they can also can enjoy collective successes, accomplishments, and partake in larger group memories.

We appreciated last week's opportunity to introduce new people to the Chemical Heritage Foundation and our diverse collection of oral histories. Below is further information about the presentations.

Mass Spectrometry: Humble Oil & Refining Co. and the Commitment to Basic Research (Hilary Domush)
Using oral histories from the CHF Oral History collection I explore a community of mass spectrometrists in the period just after World War II, who at first appeared insular but were instead intimately engaged in a larger community of scientists. I focus on the chemists at Humble Oil and Refining Co. in Baytown, Texas, who studied the basic science surrounding mass spectrometry. In many ways the post-World War II community at Humble may have been a golden era for mass spectrometry basic research in industry due to the unique juxtaposition between the introduction of commercial mass spectrometers and industry being willing to spend time, money, and resources on this pie-in-the-sky type of research. Joe L. Franklin, the leader of the mass spectroscopy group was a crucial factor in making the Humble team function as it did and after he left, other members quickly followed suit. Franklin’s enlightened point of views regarding the importance of basic research in a wide chemical and scientific context prevented the Humble community from being isolated and insular.

Where to Go When You Don’t Know Where to Go: The Pioneers of Scientific and Technical Information Systems (Sarah Hunter)
Sarah explores CHF’s Scientific and Technical Information Systems collection, which involves those individuals who have made a significant contribution to how we understand and make sense of science by managing the ways in which people accessed, used, stored, disseminated, and classified information. A group of professionals with diverse backgrounds and diverse professional experience, these individuals have been at the forefront of the field in the past fifty years. Sarah traces the timeline of extraordinary technological innovation that these individuals witnessed—and shaped—as they kept up with the increasing complexity of scientific research and information. From punch cards to today’s web-based culture, the interviewees of this collection provide a roadmap for navigating through an endless number of problems and opportunities the exponential growth of scientific information creates.


Posted In: History | Policy

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