This project is to continue research that will ultimately result in the completion of a biography of Johannes Wislicenus (1835-1902), a major German chemist of the last half of the nineteenth century who directed chemical laboratories in Zürich (1860-1872), Würzburg (1872-1885) and Leipzig (1885-1902). The grant will support the PI during a sabbatical leave to write the biography and provide funds for final research visits to libraries and archives in New York City, Kansas City, Germany, and Switzerland.

Intellectual Merit The biography will draw on previously unexamined archival materials, and will discuss Wislicenus' chemistry, primarily his advocacy for the atomic theory and stereochemistry. It will also use his life to explore cultural and institutional themes in nineteenth century German science, including the relationship between science and religion in 1850s Germany, science and mathematics education, professional training in nineteenth century chemistry and the formation of a scientific "personality," the institutional history of chemistry in Halle, Zürich, Würzburg and Leipzig, and generational shifts in chemical practice during the later nineteenth century. Many of these themes have not been studied extensively by historians of science. A second, smaller project is the creation of a new undergraduate course on "Lives in Science" at the PI's home institution, Truman State University.

Potential Broader Impacts The biography of Wislicenus will add to the growing number of historically sensitive biographies of scientists written by historians of science. These biographical studies provide a corrective to a common, but incorrect view of science as an impersonal activity. They allow us to see the broader context of how scientists are trained, and provide examples of how science is done in a specific historical and personal context by documenting major intellectual influences and concrete social interactions. Completion of the project will also enhance the number of courses in history of science available to students at Truman State University.

Project Report

NSF Grant # 1027652 Peter J. Ramberg Truman State University This project was supported by the National Science Foundations’s Science, Technology and Society Program. It funded historical work on a biography of Johannes Wislicenus (1835-1902), a major German chemist of the last half of the nineteenth century who directed chemical laboratories in Zürich (1860-1872), Würzburg (1872-1885) and Leipzig (1885-1902). The grant supported the Principal Investigator (PI) during a sabbatical leave from Truman State University to write the biography and provided funds for final research visits to libraries and archives in Germany and Switzerland. The grant also supplied funds for presenting results at professional meetings. A draft of the biography is currently completed through Wislicenus’ Zürich period (about 280 pages), and the PI is also completing articles for publications in professional journals. The book will argue that Wislicenus' rapid rise in Zürich was the result of the combination of his excellent knowledge in chemistry with a strong, but warm personality that naturally attracted students and colleagues. He was serious, but warmhearted and genuinely interested in the progress of everyone in the laboratory, from beginning students to the instructors. He conferred nearly daily with students at all levels about their progress in their projects, and encouraged students to reflect on their work, make careful observations and work independently. In the research laboratory, he deliberately cultivated an atmosphere of diverse interests to develop a creative environment. This "style" in the laboratory derived in part from two sources: the free-thinking theology absorbed from his father that emphasized the importance of each individual, and his own role as educator in realizing their potential, and his own experience as an exile in America, which made him sympathetic to those students who might be far away from home. The completed biography of Wislicenus will add to the growing number of historically sensitive biographies of scientists written by historians of science that provide a corrective to a common, but incorrect view of science as an impersonal activity. They allow us to see the broader context of how scientists are trained, and provide examples of how science is done in a specific historical and personal context by documenting major intellectual influences and concrete social interactions.

Agency
National Science Foundation (NSF)
Institute
Division of Social and Economic Sciences (SES)
Type
Standard Grant (Standard)
Application #
1027652
Program Officer
Frederick M Kronz
Project Start
Project End
Budget Start
2010-09-15
Budget End
2012-08-31
Support Year
Fiscal Year
2010
Total Cost
$55,605
Indirect Cost
Name
Truman State University
Department
Type
DUNS #
City
Kirksville
State
MO
Country
United States
Zip Code
63501