David Haldeman

Synthesis, a series of books developed by the Science History Institute, seeks to shed light on the history of chemistry, broadly construed, and its diverse roles in society.

Contributors include top scholars in the history of science and a number of past recipients of Beckman Center for the History of Chemistry fellowships. The series is published by the University of Chicago Press.


Lady Ranelagh  •  The TVs of Tomorrow  •  The Experimental Self  •  Pure Intelligence  •  The Recombinant University  •  The Limits of Matter  •  Medical Monopoly  •  Life Atomic  •  Panaceia’s Daughters  •  The Secrets of Alchemy  • Inventing Chemistry  •  Genentech  •  Image and Reality  •  The Life and Science of Harold C. Urey  •  Membranes to Molecular Machines  •  The Arts of the Microbial World  •  The Poison Trials  •  The Experimental Fire  •  The Transmutations of Chymistry  •  A Rainbow Palate

Lady Ranelagh: The Incomparable Life of Robert Boyle’s Sister

By Michelle DiMeo

“In this sensitive and inspiring biography, DiMeo resuscitates from fragmentary and forgotten evidence a leading religiopolitical reformer and strategist during Britain’s civil wars, medical practitioner in a period of transformation, and natural philosopher at the founding of the Royal Society. Lady Ranelagh’s invisibility today, like that of other female intellectuals of the time, is ironically a tribute to her success in this role in the past. Without DiMeo’s sleuthing, Ranelagh’s ideas, arguments, and experiences—hidden in her letters, within her brother’s writings, and in the many dedications acknowledging her collaboration—would be forgotten forever.”

—Pamela H. Smith, Seth Low Professor of History, Columbia University

The TVs of Tomorrow: How RCA’s Flat-Screen Dreams Led to the First LCDs

By Benjamin Gross

The TVs of Tomorrow is a detailed portrait of American innovation during the Cold War, which confirms that success in the electronics industry hinges upon input from both the laboratory and the boardroom.”



The Experimental Self: Humphry Davy and the Making of a Man of Science

By Jan Golinski

“Golinski’s The Experimental Self explores the ways in which the iconic Romantic figure and man of science Humphry Davy consciously wove together the identities of a chemist, philosopher, dandy, traveler, poet, genius, and discoverer. Golinski brilliantly reveals a world in which such experimentation and self-invention were necessary, before the establishment of modern science with its institutions and career paths.”

—Carin Berkowitz, Science History Institute

Pure Intelligence: The Life of William Hyde Wollaston

By Melvyn C. Usselman

“Based upon a study of publications, laboratory notebooks, letters and business records, Usselman tells the story of a polymath physician who entered a partnership to manufacture platinum metals and organic chemicals and found himself in an embarrassing but fascinating ethical dilemma, a man who was at the center of British science.”

—William Brock, University of Leicester

The Recombinant University: Genetic Engineering and the Emergence of Stanford Biotechnology

By Doogab Yi

“[Yi] presents a particularly illuminating portrait of the evolution of the Stanford Biochemistry Department, giving us a specific and detailed feel for the dilemmas, motives, and limitations of these scientists in grappling with the possibilities of commercialization.”

—John D. Lesch, University of California, Berkeley


The Limits of Matter: Chemistry, Mining, and Enlightenment

By Hjalmar Fors

“Hjalmar Fors masterfully demonstrates the decisive role of the Swedish Bureau of Mines in defining the nature of reality, matter and the imagination, science, and who was authorized to practice it. His command of primary and secondary sources and languages is awe-inspiring. This is a learned, original, and important work that is bound to be a game-changer in 18th-century studies.”

—Kapil Raj, École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales

Medical Monopoly: Intellectual Property Rights and the Origins of the Modern Pharmaceutical Industry

By Joseph M. Gabriel

“Marrying a keen eye for detail with attention to the larger picture, Gabriel explores the tensions between beneficence and business in the emergent pharmaceutical industry. This meticulously researched book establishes Gabriel as one of the nation’s experts on the pharmaco-medical enterprise in America from the early Republic to the Progressive Era.”

—Elizabeth Watkins, University of California, San Francisco

Life Atomic: A History of Radioisotopes in Science and Medicine

By Angela N. H. Creager

“[Creager] evenhandedly reveals the close coupling between their exploitation and the dynamics of the Cold War, illuminating how they served at once the purposes of health and security, pressing against the ethical boundaries of research with human subjects while helping to tie together the laboratory and the clinic.”

—Daniel J. Kevles, Yale University

Panaceia’s Daughters: Noblewomen Healers in Early Modern Germany

By Alisha Rankin

“This book not only challenges us to rethink our understanding of patronage and court culture in terms of gender but also reminds us of the many varieties of empiricism and experimentalism that flourished in the 16th century.”

—Tara Nummedal, Brown University


The Secrets of Alchemy

By Lawrence Principe

“With his characteristic erudition, wit, and lucid prose, Lawrence M. Principe synthesizes the explosion of new scholarship in the history of alchemy and makes it available to a wider public. This is a must-read for anyone who wants to understand the historical ideas, practices, and personalities at the heart of this centuries-old tradition, as well as the cultural forces that have shaped how we understand alchemy today.”

—Tara Nummedal, Brown University

Inventing Chemistry: Herman Boerhaave and the Reform of the Chemical Arts

By John C. Powers

“In a work of meticulous and imaginative scholarship, [Powers] has shown how Boerhaave built his reputation by organizing chemistry for the purpose of pedagogy. In Boerhaave’s classroom, as Powers shows, chemistry shrugged off its alchemical heritage and emerged as a science of the Enlightenment.”

—Jan Golinski, University of New Hampshire

Genentech: The Beginnings of Biotech

By Sally Smith Hughes

“My first job out of my postdoc was at Genentech in early 1981. At the time, I had no idea that all those guys in suits were doing something that had never been done before. . . . Sally Smith Hughes has brought to life the details of what the key players were up to—they weren’t playing it safe, and they created a catalytic environment that generated a whole new industry.”

—Cynthia Robbins-Roth, From Alchemy to IPO

Image and Reality: Kekule, Kopp, and the Scientific Imagination

By Alan J. Rocke

“The realm of atoms and molecules has long been a battlefield among scientists: what role should mental images and visual tools play in charting the unseen? In this richly textured and closely argued study, Alan Rocke brings the 19th-century debates alive. . . Rocke argues for the importance of mental imagery in nudging cutting-edge science along.”

—David J. Kaiser, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

The Life and Science of Harold C. Urey

By Matthew Shindell

“The absorbing biography . . . uses the researcher’s life to show how a conscientious chemist navigated the cold war. This fine biography wonderfully shows how Urey’s scientific contributions led chemistry in new directions, including to the Moon—and, in depicting the life of a leading scientist, Shindell probes the complex interplay of faith, values, and politics in the United States.”

Nature magazine

Membranes to Molecular Machines: Active Matter and the Remaking of Life

By Mathias Grote

Membranes to Molecular Machines is a masterful study of the hidden origins in chemical practice and an explanation of much of today's molecular biology. As Mathias Grote sheds light on how scientists unraveled molecular mechanisms related to energy, metabolism, and cognition, he expands the scope of our historical understanding and crucially enriches our theoretical armory. In giving scientists’ investigations of active biomolecules center stage, and in arguing for a materialism based on chemical concepts and practices, Grote draws the lines of the historiography of the modern life sciences anew.”

—Carsten Reinhardt, Bielefeld University

The Arts of the Microbial World: Fermentation Science in Twentieth-Century Japan

By Victoria Lee

“In The Arts of the Microbial World,Lee explores how Japanese scientists treated microbes not as threats, but as gifts from which they conjured new foods, drinks, drugs, fuels, and tastes. The result is a thrilling and surprising new history of fermentation biology that offers a nuanced counterpoint to western, gene-centric histories. Wonderfully written and brilliantly researched, this is compelling and exciting work.”

—Christopher Otter, Ohio State University

The Poison Trials: Wonder Drugs, Experiment, and the Battle for Authority in Renaissance Science

By Alisha Rankin

“[Rankin] brings us her half-a-decade’s worth of research in the disturbing monograph The Poison Trails . . . Rankin goes to lengths to not just tell stories, she also analyzes them to reconstruct the journey of moving from coercion to informed consent in clinical trials. With this, Rankin succeeds in uncovering a part of history most readers might be unfamiliar with . . . I have to give a standing ovation for the work that has gone into this book.”

Chemistry World

The Experimental Fire: Inventing English Alchemy, 1300–1700

By Jennifer M. Rampling

“An engaging piece of scholarly work that should satisfy the expert and layman alike. It makes a subject like alchemy, that appears highly abstruse, palatable to readers who may balk at the complexity and remoteness of alchemical language. More than anything, perhaps, it humanizes the alchemist, showing him or her to be a historical personage caught up in the circumstances of the era and seeking to survive the upheavals and challenges of historical reality. As such, Rampling’s book is not just an essential read for the new historiography of alchemy, but it is bound to make an important contribution to the history of science, social history, history of scholarship, and the history of the book.”

Early Science and Medicine

The Transmutations of Chymistry: Wilhelm Homberg and the Académie Royale des Sciences

By Lawrence Principe

“Telling three stories in one volume is the great achievement of this fascinating and erudite book. The biography of a dedicated savant who managed to engage the Duc d’Orléans in his laboratory work, interwoven with the story of the prestigious French Academy of Sciences, provides a snapshot of the long history of chemistry: a unique moment when the alchemical quest for gold merged with the ambition to establish chemistry on the sound theoretical foundations of natural philosophy. With its punning title, this book undoubtedly transmutes the old clichés about the death of alchemy and the birth of modern chemistry.”

—Bernadette Bensaude-Vincent, Université Paris 1-Panthéon-Sorbonne

A Rainbow Palate: How Chemical Dyes Changed the West’s Relationship with Food

By Carolyn Cobbold

“Cobbold has produced a fascinating account and analysis of how these dyes were introduced, contested, and ultimately legitimized in an emerging globalized industrial food system . . . What Cobbold draws our attention to is the inevitable negotiation around expertise and the permitted uses of novel chemical additives. In doing so, she enters a larger discussion about how novel scientific objects and processes evade control once they emerge from the laboratory and enter the world where they are unexpectedly transformed and used. More broadly, this book helps historicize the public construction of trust in science and chemistry.”

Scientia Canadensis

Synthesis Lectures

September 29, 2016
Jan Golinski, University of New Hampshire
The Experimental Self: Humphry Davy and the Making of a Man of Science

June 10, 2015
Joseph Gabriel, Johns Hopkins University
Medical Monopoly: Intellectual Property Rights and the Origins of the Modern Pharmaceutical Industry

May 29, 2014
Angela Creager, Princeton University
Atomic Tracings: Radioisotopes in Science and Medicine