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


  • Brown Bag Lectures will return on January 28. Find out more about the upcoming spring lectures here.
  • Lissa Roberts has been named the Cain Conference Fellow for 2014. This annual conference, hosted by the Beckman Center, will bring together scholars from the United States, Europe, Asia, and South America, including several former fellows, whose work focuses on global history and the history of science.
  • Robert Fox, Cain Distinguished Fellow, gave his Fellow in Focus lecture to an enthusiastic crowd on November 14. You can see photos of the event on the CHF flickr page.
  • The latest addition to SynthesisLife Atomic: A History of Radioisotopes in Science and Medicine, is now available via University of Chicago Press. In Life Atomic, Angela N. H. Creager tells the story of how these radioisotopes, which were simultaneously scientific tools and political icons, transformed biomedicine and ecology. It has been positively reviewed by numerous publications, including Science and Nature.
  • The 2013–2014 Beckman Center Fellows are in residence at CHF! Check out Fellows and Staff to learn more about this diverse group of scholars and the research they are doing.
  • Recent updates from fellows:
    • Yoshiyuki Kikuchi (Edelstein Fellow 2008–2009) has been named a member of the organizing committee for the 2015 Tokyo International Workshop on the History of Chemistry. For more information about the conference, including the call for papers, visit the conference website.
    • Robert Fox (Cain Distinguished Fellow 2013–2014) has recently published the edited volume The Oxford Handbook of the History of Physics (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013).
    • Slawomir Lotysz (Price Fellow 2007–2008) has been elected the General Secretary of ICOHTEC (International Committee for the History of Technology).
    • Adelheid Voskuhl (Doan Fellow 2012–2013) has recently published Androids in the Enlightenment: Mechanics, Artisans, and Cultures of the Self (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2013).
    • Benjamin Gross (Price Fellow 2009–2010 and Cain Fellow 2011–2012) has spent the last year curating an exhibition at the College of New Jersey on the Radio Corporation of America and the history of electronics, which opened earlier this fall. You can learn more about visiting the collection on its website.
    • Donna Bilak’s (Edelstein Fellow 2013–2014) article, “Alchemy and the End Times: Revelations from the Laboratory and Library of John Allin, Puritan Alchemist (1623–1683),” has appeared in the most recent volume of Ambix (6:4 [November 2013], 390–414).
    • David Caudill (Société de Chimie Industrielle Fellow 2007–2008) will have his article “Economics and/of Science: The Meaning(s) of Financial Bias and the Ideal of Interest-Free Science in Law” appear in the SMU Science and Technology Law Review.
    • Augustin Cerveaux (Glenn E. and Barbara Hodsdon Ullyot Scholar 2007–2008 and Gordon Cain Fellow 2011–2012) has had an essay published in theEncyclopedia of Greater Philadelphia; it can be found online.
    • Matthew Eisler (Glenn E. and Barbara Hodsdon Ullyot Scholar 2004–2005) has published, “At Arm’s Length: Energy and the Construction of a Peripheral Prairie Petrometropolis,” in Energy Capitals, ed. Martin V. Melosi and Joe Pratt (Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 2013).
    • Jennifer Rampling (Allington Fellow 2008–2009) has won the inaugural Neu-Whitrow Bibliography Prize for her 2010 article “The Catalogue of the Ripley Corpus.” The prize is awarded by the International Union for the History and Philosophy of Science/Division of History of Science and was presented at the ICHSTM in Manchester.


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 our newest 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 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!


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.

Ship of Fellows

CHF’s fellowship program attracts researchers from all over the world. Read about their work and time in Philadelphia on the Periodic Tabloid.


Support CHF

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