Beckman Center

Beckman Center

Applications for 2016–2017 Beckman Center fellowships are now available.

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


New and Noteworthy

  • The Beckman Center is pleased to announce the 2015–2016 class of fellows. Check out Fellows and Staff to learn more about this diverse group of scholars and the research they will be doing.
  • Beckman Center Brown Bag lectures have begun for the fall term. Click here to find out about upcoming talks.
  • Other recent updates from fellows:
    • Rebecca Guenard (2013–2014 Societe de Chimie Industrielle Fellow) has published her story on the history of hair dye in Mosaic. Much of the reasearch done for this piece was completed at CHF.
    • Catherine Price's (2012–2013 Société de Chimie Industrielle Fellow) book, VITAMANIA: Our Obsessive Quest for Nutritional Perfection, was published by Penguin Press on February 24. She also had an editorial published in the New York Times Sunday Review about the hidden fortification of our food supply and how it is enabling eating habits that are harming our health.

    • Gwen Ottinger’s (2005–2006 John C. Haas Fellow) book, Refining Expertise, won the Rachel Carson Prize from the Society for Social Studies of Science.  

    • Rebecca Laroche (2011–2012 Robert W. Allington Fellow), in collaboration with Elaine Leong (Max Planck Institute) and Lisa Smith (University of Saskatchewan), as well as CHF staff member Michelle DiMeo, formed a steering committee for a new project to create a searchable database of recipes 1550–1850. Their website is

    • Stephen Adams (1998–1999 Gordon Cain Fellow) will be a 2015–2016 fellow at the Smithsonian’s Lemelson Center for Invention and Innovation, working on his book Before the Garage: The Beginnings of Silicon Valley, 1909–1960.

    • Peter Morris’s (1991–1992 Sidney M. Edelstein Fellow) The Matter Factory: A History of the Chemistry Laboratory is due out in July 2015 from Reaktion Books.


Fellowships and Travel Grants

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. 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.


Behind the Beaker

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



Conferences, Lectures, and More

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.

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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


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