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Beckman Center for the History of Chemistry

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 also home to associated academic activities, including a public lecture series, weekly lunchtime talk series, writing group, book series, and network of over 250 alumni.


Beckman Center scholars are an international group, coming to the Science History Institute from countries including China, Spain, Greece, France, and the United Kingdom; their scholarship is diverse, and yet they form a strong community. We select roughly 25 research fellows annually, making the Beckman Center the largest private fellowship program in the history of science in the United States. These fellows work closely with the Institute’s scholarly community and take part in a variety of public programming, including lectures and workshops.

The Beckman Center offers several fellowships for scholars doing research in the history and social studies of chemistry and related sciences, technologies, and industries. Our 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.

Talks and Lectures

Each year the Beckman Center hosts the Gordon Cain Conference, organized by an eminent scholar who works with staff to develop a theme of broad contemporary relevance. The Cain Conference is intended to foster discussions about the intersections of scholarly historical knowledge and practical information, discussions that have a bearing on contemporary culture. It is supported by a generous gift from Gordon Cain. Each Cain Conference involves both public and scholarly components, and most result in the publication of an edited volume.

The Beckman Center hosts a series of public Brown Bag Lectures on Tuesdays during the spring and fall terms. At these lectures the Institute fellows, travel grantees, staff, and other area scholars share ongoing research on topics relating to the history of science and contemporary issues in science studies.

The Beckman Center also hosts four evening lectures each year: two Fellow in Focus lectures (one in the fall and one in the spring), the Cain Conference public lecture in the late spring, and the Synthesis lecture in early summer.


Synthesis, a series of books developed by the Science History Institute 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 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.

Each year the Beckman Center hosts the Synthesis Lecture, given by a Synthesis contributor.