These reflections result from a February 2014 address at OSU’s Center for the Humanities delivered by Mary Jo Nye, Professor Emerita of History at OSU. Professor Nye, who spoke on “Biography and the History of Science,” has written biographies of many scientists including the English physicist and Nobel laureate P.M.S. Blackett (2004) and the Hungarian chemist and philosopher Michael Polanyi (2011). Professor Nye suggested that there are three principal forms of biography in which the subject is a scientist: the life of the scientist, the scientific life, and the life of scientific collaboration.
Biographies of scientists, something not often encountered by undergraduate science majors like me, can enrich our knowledge of scientific practice and methods. Good biographies can help us learn about and remember complex scientific concepts. I have come to think that the biography itself is a kind of science. Provided they are well-written and can hold the reader’s interest, biographies of scientists contribute to scientific literacy and allow for increased dissemination of information through the avenue of art. A biographer must be critical, aware, and objective in their work in order to produce writings that fully encompass the life and impact of the subject. Thus biography conveys scientific concepts in a way that this marine biology student and many non-scientists can grasp. Continue reading