The Life and Science of Harold C. Urey: A Biography of 20th-Century Science

Lunchtime Lectures
Wednesday, May 27, 2020
1:00 p.m.–2:00 p.m.
Eastern Daylight Time (UTC -4)
United States

This talk by Matthew Shindell, curator of planetary science at the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum, is part of Science, Incorporated: Constructing the Natures of American Modernization, a series of six lectures that unpick the diverse ways in which nature—and the study of nature—became entangled with the modernization of America, from the early origins of laboratory pedagogy to mineral prospecting by satellite.

This talk draws on Shindell’s new biography of Nobel Prize–winning chemist Harold C. Urey (1893–1981). Urey, one of the most famous American scientists of the 20th century, participated in some of the century’s most significant moments, including the Manhattan Project and NASA’s lunar exploration program. Shindell shines new light on Urey’s achievements and efforts to shape his public and private lives.

The talk follows Urey through his orthodox religious upbringing, the scientific work that won him the Nobel, and his subsequent efforts to use his fame to intervene in political, social, and scientific matters. By exploring those efforts, as well as Urey’s evolution from farm boy to scientific celebrity, Shindell highlights broader changes in the social and intellectual landscape of 20th-century America.

About the Speaker


Matthew Shindell headshot

Matthew Shindell.

Matthew Shindell is curator of planetary science at the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C. He cohosts the museum’s podcast, AirSpace. Shindell has taught at Johns Hopkins University, Harvard University, Georgetown University, the University of Southern California, and the University of California, San Diego. He was a Haas fellow at the Science History Institute in 2009–2010, and his recently published book, The Life and Science of Harold C. Urey, is part of the Science History Institute’s Synthesis series. Shindell holds a PhD in history of science and science studies from the UC San Diego, an MS in biology and society from Arizona State University, and an MFA in creative writing from the University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop.

About the Series

Lunchtime Lectures are a series of (mostly) weekly, informal talks on the history of chemistry or related subjects, including the history and social studies of science, technology, and medicine. Based on original research (sometimes still in progress), these talks are given by scholars for an audience of the Institute staff and fellows and interested members of the public.