Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Picture the scene…

Posted by on 08/05 at 01:11 PM … a chemist in a photo. Did you see a man in a lab coat, holding up an Erlenmeyer flask? Welcome to the club: that archetypal image has been around as long as doctors have worn stethoscopes – and even longer!

There are actually people (historians of science, art historians and others) who investigate the image of scientists in pop culture – Christopher Frayling’s Mad, Bad and Dangerous?: The Scientist and the Cinema comes to mind. My extensive bibliographical research on the topic has also uncovered a series of children’s books entitled Lab Coat Girl, but that is just an aside.

The flask in the stereotypical chemist’s hand has a long, complex and incredible history which is much too good to be told here. Luckily, two scholars (Joachim Schummer & Tami I. Spector) have written on it already in a richly illustrated article, “The Visual Image of Chemistry: Perspectives from the History of Art and Science” . Happy reading!

Incidentally, the journal in which this article appeared is HYLE--International Journal for Philosophy of Chemistry, and many of its past contributors will be present at the upcoming conference for the Philosophy of Chemistry at CHF. They are, mostly, philosophers and historians, not chemists. I wonder what they will be wearing and holding – tweed, elbow patches and fountain pens? We’ll see…

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