Image and RealityGenentechInventing ChemistryThe Secrets of AlchemyPanaceia’s Daughters Life AtomicMedical MonopolyThe Limits of Matter • The Recombinant University • Pure Intelligence

Synthesis, a series of books developed by the Chemical Heritage Foundation and published by the University of Chicago Press, seeks to shed light on the history of chemistry, broadly construed, and its diverse roles in society. Topics covered in the series, now in its third year, have been extremely varied, ranging from alchemical secrets to the intersections of business and biotechnology. Contributors include top scholars in the history of science and a number of past recipients of Beckman Center fellowships.

Acquiring Editor

Karen Merikangas Darling

Editorial Board

Angela N.H. Creager, John E. Lesch, Ann Johnson, Lawrence M. Principe, Alan Rocke, E. C. Spary, and Audra J. Wolfe


  • In spring 2015 the University of Chicago Press and CHF have added two more books to the Synthesis series. The first, The Recombinant University: Genetic Engineering and the Emergence of Stanford Biotechnology, written by former Beckman Center fellow Doogab Yi, will be available in March. The second, Pure Intelligence: The Life of William Hyde Wollaston by Melvyn Usselman, will be published in May. Find out about these works, as well as two more slated for 2015, at the University of Chicago Press.
  • We are pleased to announce that Joseph Gabriel will be speaking at the Chemical Heritage Foundation about his book Medical Monopoly: Intellectual Property Rights and the Origins of the Modern Pharmaceutical Industry. The talk will take place on June 10, 2015, at 6:00 p.m. For further details and to register to attend this talk, see the lecture event page.


Image and Reality: Kekule, Kopp, and the Scientific Imagination

Alan J. Rocke


“The realm of atoms and molecules has long been a battlefield among scientists: what role should mental images and visual tools play in charting the unseen? In this richly textured and closely argued study, Alan Rocke brings the 19th-century debates alive. From August Kekulé’s famous dreamlike visions of molecular structures to Hermann Kopp’s fanciful depictions of travels within the molecular world, Rocke argues for the importance of mental imagery in nudging cutting-edge science along.”—David J. Kaiser, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

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Sally Smith Hughes


“My first job out of my postdoc was at Genentech in early 1981. At the time, I had no idea that all those guys in suits were doing something that had never been done before. But I did know the science was amazing. . . . Sally Smith Hughes has brought to life the details of what the key players were up to—they weren’t playing it safe, and they created a catalytic environment that generated a whole new industry.”—Cynthia Robbins-Roth, From Alchemy to IPO

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Inventing Chemistry: Herman Boerhaave and the Reform of the Chemical Arts

John C. Powers


“Herman Boerhaave was famous in the 18th century as the man who taught Europe chemistry, though he has been little studied since. John C. Powers has finally given him his due. In a work of meticulous and imaginative scholarship, he has shown how Boerhaave built his reputation by organizing chemistry for the purpose of pedagogy. In Boerhaave’s classroom, as Powers shows, chemistry shrugged off its alchemical heritage and emerged as a science of the Enlightenment.”—Jan Golinski, University of New Hampshire

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The Secrets of Alchemy

Lawrence Principe


“With his characteristic erudition, wit, and lucid prose, Lawrence M. Principe synthesizes the explosion of new scholarship in the history of alchemy and makes it available to a wider public. This is a must-read for anyone who wants to understand the historical ideas, practices, and personalities at the heart of this centuries-old tradition, as well as the cultural forces that have shaped how we understand alchemy today.”—Tara Nummedal, Brown University

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Panaceia’s Daughters: Noblewomen Healers in Early Modern Germany

Alisha Rankin


“With a remarkable ability to tease meaning out of seemingly straightforward sources, Alisha Rankin reconstructs the extensive medical activity and widely recognized authority of scores of German noblewomen and situates them at the nexus of medical expertise, charity, and patronage. This book not only challenges us to rethink our understanding of patronage and court culture in terms of gender but also reminds us of the many varieties of empiricism and experimentalism that flourished in the 16th century.”—Tara Nummedal, Brown University

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Life Atomic: A History of Radioisotopes in Science and Medicine

Angela N. H. Creager


“Angela Creager’s book is breathtaking in scope, a lucid, original account of how radioisotopes came to suffuse and transform research in fields ranging from the experimental life sciences to biomedicine and ecology. It evenhandedly reveals the close coupling between their exploitation and the dynamics of the Cold War, illuminating how they served at once the purposes of health and security, pressing against the ethical boundaries of research with human subjects while helping to tie together the laboratory and the clinic.”—Daniel J. Kevles, Yale University

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Medical Monopoly: Intellectual Property Rights and the Origins of the Modern Pharmaceutical Industry 

Joseph M. Gabriel


“Marrying a keen eye for detail with attention to the larger picture, [Joseph] Gabriel explores the tensions between beneficence and business in the emergent pharmaceutical industry. This meticulously researched book establishes Gabriel as one of the nation’s experts on the pharmaco-medical enterprise in America from the early Republic to the Progressive Era.”—Elizabeth Watkins, University of California, San Francisco

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The Limits of Matter: Chemistry, Matter, and Enlightenment 

Hjalmar Fors


 “In this path-breaking study . . . Hjalmar Fors masterfully demonstrates the decisive role of the officials of the Swedish Bureau of Mines in defining the nature of reality, matter and the imagination, science, and who was authorized to practice it. His command of primary and secondary sources and languages is awe-inspiring. This is a learned, original, and important work that is bound to be a game-changer in 18th-century studies, both in terms of historiography and geography.”—Kapil Raj, École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales

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The Recombinant University: Genetic Engineering and the Emergence of Stanford Biotechnology

Doogab Yi


 Yi places the technical developments in biochemistry and molecular biology . . . in an evolving relationship with legal, economic, and political changes from the late 1960s to the early 1980s. He presents a particularly illuminating portrait of the evolution of the Stanford Biochemistry Department, giving us a specific and detailed feel for the dilemmas, motives, and limitations of these scientists in grappling with the possibilities of commercialization.”—John D. Lesch, University of California, Berkeley

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Pure Intelligence: The Life of William Hyde Wollaston

Melvyn C. Usselman


 Based upon a thirty-year study of Wollaston’s . . . publications, laboratory notebooks, letters and business records, Usselman tells the story of a polymath physician who entered a secret partnership to manufacture platinum metals and organic chemicals and found himself in an embarrassing but fascinating ethical dilemma; a brilliant analytical chemist who played a crucial role in the development of crystallography and the atomic theory; and a man who was at the center of British science.”—William Brock, University of Leicester

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