Past Event

Ann-Sophie Barwich - Scent Track: What can the History of Olfaction tell us about Theorizing in the Life Sciences?

April 26, 2017
6:00 PM - 8:00 PM
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New York Academy of Medicine, 1216 5th Avenue, New York

Speaker: Ann-Sophie Barwich, Presidential Scholar in Society and Neuroscience, Columbia University

Perfumery may possibly be the second oldest business in the history of mankind. Olfaction, the sense of smell, has attracted systematic interest in scientific studies only recently, however. The discovery of the olfactory receptor genes by Linda Buck and Richard Axel in 1991 catapulted olfaction into core neurobiological research. Seldom does a discovery represent the birth of an experimental system as markedly as in the case of the olfactory receptors. Olfaction has been a fairly neglected field before, conducted only by a few but dedicated researchers throughout the past centuries.

One of the key reasons for the historical marginalization of olfaction were the experimental difficulties of conducting research into olfaction. What is the material “smelling principle” underlying the variety of odorous plant and animal materials? How to you “materialize” or visualize the perceptual process of smelling? And by what criteria can you test your ideas about smell as a perceptible and qualitatively rich but invisible dimension of matter?

My talk centers on the experimental difficulties in history of olfaction to analyze scientific developments through scientific methodology. In particular, I look how research routines, both cognitive and behavioral, develop to influence model making and theorizing. The question I am interested in is to what extent a historiography starting from practices differs from a more traditional history of concepts, and what these differences reveal about the character of theorizing in the life sciences. My aim is to develop a historicized notion of theory structure that is based on routine practices.

Ann-Sophie Barwich is a bench philosopher and historian of science with specialization in neuroscience, general biology, and chemistry. Her work is on current and past developments in olfactory research (1600 to today). She received her PhD at Exeter (Egenis/The Centre for the Study of the Life Sciences) under the supervision of John Dupré in 2013, before taking up a postdoctoral fellowship at the Konrad Lorenz Institute for Evolution and Cognition Research. Her thesis examined classification and modeling strategies through which scientists have linked odors to a material basis (botanical, chemical, molecular-biological, neurophysiological), and her postdoctoral project concerned the role of methodology in measurement and wet-lab discovery. As a current scholar in the Presidential Scholars in Society and Neuroscience program at the Center for Science and Society, Columbia University, she focuses on the role of ‘research routines’ in scientific training and practice.

This event is free and open to the public.

This event is part of the New York History of Science Lecture Series.

Sponsoring Organizations:
New York University
Gallatin School of Individualized Study
Columbia University in the City of New York
City University of New York
The New York Academy of Sciences
The New York Academy of Medicine