Image and RealityGenentechInventing ChemistryThe Secrets of AlchemyPanaceia’s Daughters Life Atomic

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


  • The latest addition to Synthesis, Life Atomic: A History of Radioisotopes in Science and Medicine, is now available through the University of Chicago Press. Nature has called it a “lucid scientific history” that explores how “the Manhattan Project’s impact reverberated beyond the atomic bomb.” Read the entire review here.
  • Positive reviews of Panaceia’s Daughters continue to pour in. Most recently, the New Books Network podcast called it a “thoughtfully written and very clearly argued work that informs many aspects of the history of gender, of science and medicine, and of practical epistemologies.” Read the full review and listen to an interview with Alisha Rankin.


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 N. H. 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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