Beckman Center

Beckman Center

Applications for 2015–2016 fellowships are now available and are due on January 15, 2015. Click here for more information and to apply.

The Arnold and Mabel Beckman Center for the History of Chemistry comprises a dynamic community of scholars interested in the history and social studies of chemistry, broadly construed. It is the home of academic programming at CHF, including a weekly talk series (Brown Bag Lectures), a book series in the history of chemistry put out by University of Chicago Press (Synthesis), an annual conference organized by a leading scholar in the history of science community (the Gordon Cain Conference), and occasional conferences and workshops by leading historians of chemistry who are interested in working with CHF’s staff and whose work appeals to the broader scholarly community at CHF.  

The Beckman Center is also home to CHF’s fellows, of whom there are roughly 25 annually, making the Beckman Center the largest private fellowship program in the history of science in the United States. The Beckman Center, which celebrated its 25th anniversary in 2012, is proud to count among its alumni a long list of distinguished researchers (see Current and Former Fellows). We also offer travel grants to support one or two weeks of research using CHF’s collections.

New and Noteworthy * Fellowships and Travel Grants * Behind the Beaker * Conferences, Lectures, and More


  • BCHOC Cain Distinguished Fellow, Bruce Moran, will be giving the fall 2014 Rohm and Haas Fellow in Focus Lecture on November 20, 2014. Click here to learn more and to register to attend.
  • Attending the History of Science Society annual meeting in November? Stop by the book exhibit to say hello to Beckman Center staff and learn about the latest additions to the Synthesis series. 
  • Beginning in the 2015–2016 academic year, the Beckman Center will be offering a new long-term Senior Fellowship, available to scholars who received their PhD more than five year ago. For more information or to apply, click here.
  • The Beckman Center is pleased to announce the 2014–2015 class of fellows. Check out Fellows and Staff to learn more about this diverse group of scholars and the research they will be doing.
  • Other recent updates from fellows:
    • Kathryn Steen (2000–2001 Edelstein Fellow) has recently published The American Synthetic Organic Chemicals Industry: War and Politics, 1910–1930 (University of North Carolina Press, 2014), much of it based on research conducted at CHF.
    • Gildo Santos (2013–2014 Allington Fellow) has published “A Tale of Oblivion: Ida Noddack and the ‘Universal Abundance’ of Matter,” based on research conducted during his fellowship. It is available online.
    • A recent ACS Symposium Series volume, The Future of the History of Chemical Information, has been edited by Leah McEwen (2013–2014 Otlet Fellow). It is available online via the American Chemical Society.
    • Donna Bilak (2013-14 Edelstein Fellow) has written an entry on John Allin, a seventeenth century Puritan alchemist, for the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. The entry will appear in the ODNB’s tenth anniversary edition.
    • Michelle DiMeo (2013-14 Allington Fellow) recently joined CHF's staff as the Curator of Digital Collections, overseeing the creation of CHF’s first digital repository and online collection.
    • Elena Serrano (2011-12 CHF Fellow) has had her article “Chemistry in the city: the scientific role of female societies in eighteenth-century Spain” named “Editor’s Choice” by Ambix. Research for this article was funded through a CHF travel grant.
    • Peter Westin (2013-14 Doan Fellow) was appointed Lecturer at the University of Virginia in the Department of Engineering and Society. He is part of the team that teaches first-year engineering students about great inventions, how they came about, and how they impacted/changed societal norms.


2010-2011 Fellows at the Hagley Museum and Library

Beckman Center Scholars are an international group, coming to CHF from countries including China, Spain, Greece, France, and the United Kingdom; their scholarship is diverse and yet they form a strong community.  

The Beckman Center offers several fellowships for scholars doing research in the history and sociology of chemistry and related sciences, technologies, and industries. The 2013–2014 class has welcomed five postdoctoral fellows, four dissertation fellows, and fourteen short-term fellows, making CHF a leading center for independent research in the history of science and technology in the United States.  

CHF fellows are encouraged to interact with the robust history of science community in Philadelphia. Fellows also participate in an informal writing group, which provides a critical but collegial setting in which to develop works in progress. Travel grants for short visits (less than one month) are also available to support focused research in the Othmer Library.


Fellows, staff, and visiting scholars at the Beckman Center engage in a variety of projects, from dissertation research to exhibit curation and public outreach. On any given day researchers might be examining depictions of alchemists in art, science in 19th-century literature, or natural history collections of early museums. 

In our “Behind the Beaker” interview series Beckman Center scholars discuss their research. The latest episodes can be found below.


Evan Hepler-Smith, Herdegen Fellow 2013-2014


Elisabeth Berry-Drago, Allington Fellow 2013–2014


Benjamin Gross, Cain Fellow 2012–2013


Joel Klein, Edelstein Fellow 2012–2013



Robert Fox speaks at the 2013 Fellow in Focus lecture. Photo by Conrad Erb.


Each year the Beckman Center hosts the Cain Conference, organized by an eminent scholar who works with CHF staff to develop a theme of broad contemporary relevance. 

The Beckman Center hosts a series of Brown Bag Lectures on Tuesdays during the spring and fall terms. At these lectures CHF fellows, travel grantees, staff, and other area scholars talk on topics involving the history of chemistry, political and social issues of importance to chemists and chemical engineers, and issues affecting the future of chemical research. The center also hosts occasional academic conferences and symposia.



The Arnold and Mabel Beckman Center for the History of Chemistry was started with a generous grant from the Arnold and Mabel Beckman Foundation in 1987.

Brown Bag Lecture Series

Enjoy a bring-your-own brown-bag lunch while listening to CHF scholars share their research.

Sensing Change

See your environment with fresh eyes through this online exhibit.

Hear It Firsthand

CHF’s Center for Oral History captures and preserves the stories of notable figures in chemistry and related fields. Many of the oral histories in the collection belong to recipients of CHF awards, including


Fellowships at CHF

CHF’s scholars, who spend anywhere from one to nine months in residence, form a vital part of CHF’s intellectual life.

Support CHF

Help us preserve and share the history of chemistry and related sciences. Make a tax-deductible donation online.