Synthesis Lecture Series: Angela N. H. Creager, “Atomic Tracings:  Radioisotopes in Science and Medicine”

Angela N. H. Creager

Angela N. H. Creager

Date: May 29, 2014
Time: 6:00 p.m. lecture, 7:00 p.m. dessert and coffee

315 Chestnut Street
Philadelphia, PA 19106



Event Type: Open to the Public
Fee: Free
RSVP Online: Online registration is now closed.

In her recent and highly acclaimed book, Life Atomic:  A History of Radioisotopes in Science and Medicine, Angela N. H. Creager examines how the post-Hiroshima politics of atomic energy prompted the distribution of radioisotopes by the U.S. government and traces the consequences of their use across diverse contexts. This talk will explore one part of that broader project. 

After World War II the U.S. government developed atomic energy for peacetime in the form of radioactive isotopes, produced in a former Manhattan Project reactor and distributed to civilian purchasers. These radioisotopes provided physicians with new tools of diagnosis and therapy and equipped biologists to trace molecular transformations from metabolic pathways to ecosystems.

This talk juxtaposes postwar developments in biochemistry, nuclear medicine, and ecology that grew out of this new supply of radioisotopes. In each of these areas one can see how governmental policy and infrastructure integral to the Cold War decisively shaped scientific opportunities and knowledge. Routine practices of radiolabeling and radiotracing remained in place long after the positive political valence of radioisotopes dimmed in the 1960s and 1970s, in the wake of the debates over radioactive contamination of the environment from atomic-weapons tests and nuclear waste.

About the speaker

Angela N. H. Creager is the Philip and Beulah Rollins Professor of History at Princeton University, where she teaches history of science. She is the author of The Life of a Virus: Tobacco Mosaic Virus as an Experimental Model, 1930–1965 and Life Atomic: A History of Radioisotopes in Science and Medicine, both published by the University of Chicago Press. Her newest research focuses on the history of environmental health and regulation. She is currently president of the History of Science Society.

More information

For more information contact Rebecca Ortenberg at or 215.873.8247.

About the Beckman Center for the History of Chemistry

Now in its 26th year the Arnold and Mabel Beckman Center for the History of Chemistry is home to CHF’s fellowship program and the heart of academic programming within the organization. The Beckman Center has provided funding for almost 200 fellows working on the history of science, technology, medicine, and industry. Despite its relative youth the Beckman Center is now the largest source of non–university based fellowships for historians of science in the United States.

About the Synthesis Lecture Series 

The Synthesis lecture series seeks to shed light on the history of chemistry, broadly construed, and the diverse roles chemistry has played in society. The lecture series is based on the book series of the same name, developed by the Chemical Heritage Foundation in conjunction with the University of Chicago Press. Topics covered in the series are 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.

Register for an event link

Need Meeting Space?

CHF’s state-of-the-art conference center is in Philadelphia’s beautiful historic district.

Support CHF

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