Fellow in Focus: Searching for Meaning in the History of Planetary Science

Fellow in Focus
Thursday, November 17, 2016
6:00 p.m.–8:00 p.m.
Chemical Heritage Foundation
315 Chestnut Street
Philadelphia, PA 19106
United States

Why do we explore our solar system? Whose stories help explain the history of planetary science?                                             


Artist concepts of the JPL-NASA MAGELLAN MISSION to Venus

Artist concepts of the JPL-NASA MAGELLAN MISSION to Venus. 


Matthew Shindell has been pondering these questions while teaching the history of exploration at Harvard and Georgetown Universities, and more recently while curating the Exploring the Planets exhibition of the Smithsonian Institution’s National Air and Space Museum.

In this Fellow in Focus lecture Shindell uses stories from explorers of our solar system to broaden the historical perspective. Moving beyond the well-known accomplishments of the “space race” and the oft-cited platitude that exploration is part of human nature, he connects planetary exploration to the larger history of the 20th century.

Event Schedule

  • 6:00 p.m.
  • 7:00 p.m.

About the Speaker

Matthew Shindell is a historian of science whose work focuses on the history of the earth and planetary sciences, with an emphasis on the development of research programs in these fields during the Cold War. He curates the Smithsonian Institution National Air and Space Museum’s collection of spacecraft, instruments, and other artifacts related to the exploration and study of the solar system. He has also taught at the University of Southern California and Harvard University.

From 2009 to 2010 Shindell held a Haas Fellowship at the Institute. His research project, “The New Prophet: Harold C. Urey, Scientist, Atheist, and Defender of Religion,” informed his dissertation. Now he is revising these materials for publication. This social biographical study of the life and career of Urey acts as a lens to examine the changing landscape of American science during the 20th century and the emergence during the Cold War of new sciences focusing on the earth and planets. 

Shindell received a BS in biology from Arizona State University, an MFA in creative writing from the University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop, an MS in biology and society from Arizona State University, and a PhD in history of science from the University of California, San Diego (UCSD). While a graduate student, Shindell received fellowships from the Institute, the UCSD Center for the Humanities, the UCSD Science Studies Program, the Mandeville Special Collections Library, and the National Science Foundation. He has held postdoctoral fellowships at UCSD, the University of Southern California, the Huntington Library, and Harvard. 


About the Series

The Rohm and Haas Fellow in Focus lecture series gives the Institute’s scholars an opportunity to present their work to a broad audience interested in history, science, and culture. Fellow in Focus lectures are presented by the Arnold and Mabel Beckman Center for the History of Chemistry.