Beckman Center

Beckman Center

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 18 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


  • 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.
  • Current Beckman Center fellow Evan Hepler-Smith has been named the 2014 Partington Prize winner for his paper “‘Just as the Structural Formula Does’: Names, Diagrams, and the Structure of Organic Chemistry at the 1892 Geneva Nomenclature Congress.” Joel Klein, also a Beckman Center fellow, has been highly commended for his essay “Daniel Sennert, the Philosophical Hen, and the Epistolary Quest for a (Nearly-)Universal Medicine.” Both essays will be published in Ambix, the journal of the Society for the History of Alchemy and Chemistry.
  • Other recent updates from fellows:
    • Janet Abbate (2003–04 Garfield Fellow) is now codirector of the STS Graduate Program at the Virginia Tech Northern Virginia Center.
    • James Fleming (2010–11 Cain Conference Fellow) edited Toxic Airs: Body, Place, Planet in Historical Perspective with Ann Johnson, compiled as part of the 2011 Cain Conference.
    • Evan Hepler-Smith (2013–14 Herdegen Fellow) has been awarded a Porter Ogden Jacobus Fellowship from Princeton University, an honorific award “reserved for four students who, in the judgment of the University faculty, demonstrate the highest scholarly excellence” and considered “Princeton’s top honor for graduate students.”
    • David Schliefer’s (2008–09 Haas Fellow) work on trans fats received quite a bit of media attention last fall when the FDA proposed new regulations that would essentially ban trans fats. He has been cited in All Things Considered, the Chicago Tribune, and the Atlantic.
    • Pamela Smith (1997–98 Edelstein Fellow) has recently published an edited volume, Ways of Making and Knowing: The Material Culture of Empirical Knowledge (ed. Pamela H. Smith, Amy Meyers, and Harold J. Cook, Bard Graduate Center/University of Michigan Press, 2014.)
    • Regina Lee Blaszczyk (2002–03 Edelstein Fellow) received the Sally Hacker Prize for Exceptional Scholarship That Reaches beyond the Academy for The Color Revolution (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2012).


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.


Benjamin Gross, Cain Fellow 2012–2013


Joel Klein, Edelstein Fellow 2012–2013


Elisabeth Berry-Drago, Allington Fellow 2013–2014



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.

Sensing Change

See your environment with fresh eyes through this online exhibit.

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.

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 winners of CHF’s awards, including

  • Arnold Beckman, winner of the Othmer Gold Medal (2000)
  • Robert Allington, winner of the Pittcon Heritage Award (2005)
  • Carl Djerassi, winner of the Othmer Gold Medal (2000), the AIC Gold Medal (2004), and the Ullyot Public Affairs Lecturer (1995)
  • Gordon Cain, winner of the Petrochemical Heritage Award (1997)

Listen to their extraordinary stories today!


Support CHF

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