The Mysterious Muscle: Experimental Epistemologies of Force and Fuel

Lunchtime Lectures
Wednesday, April 29, 2020
1:00 p.m.–2:00 p.m.
Eastern Daylight Time (UTC -4)
United States

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This week’s talk features Gina Surita, history of science predoctoral fellow at the American Philosophical Society.

For experimental physiologists around the turn of the 20th century, muscle was one of the most confounding and controversial objects of biological research. As one of the two animal tissues most closely associated with action and movement (nerve being the other), muscle was, in the minds of many of its investigators, a window into the role of physicochemical forces in the propagation of the living state. Nineteenth-century investigators concerned with the movement of the “muscle machine,” as it was often called, primarily approached the question of the relationship between muscular force (contraction) and muscular fuel (energy) as a physical problem. But by the first few decades of the 20th century, researchers interested in biological energy approached this relationship explicitly as a chemical problem. This talk traces the processes through which experimental physiologists identified muscle as a key tissue of interest for investigations into the generation, storage, and use of biological energy. Through an examination of the shifting and much-debated role of lactic acid in muscle contraction, this talk illuminates the various epistemologies of muscular force and fuel in turn-of-the-century physiology.


Gina Surita

Gina Surita

About the Speaker

Gina Surita is a PhD candidate in history of science at Princeton University, specializing in the history of modern biology and medicine. Her dissertation project, “The Currency of the Cell: Energy, Metabolism, and Life in Twentieth-Century Biology,” examines the history of bioenergetics and metabolism research and aims to situate these developments alongside the more well-studied trajectories of 20th-century biology, such as the rise of molecular genetics. Gina is currently a history of science predoctoral fellow at the American Philosophical Society.

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 local scholars for an audience of the Institute staff and fellows and interested members of the public.