The project "Twentieth Century Theories of Development in Context" provides the integration of research, teaching, and outreach called for by the CAREER initiative. Taking developmental biology in the 20th century as its subject matter, the project approaches development from two scholarly and educational angles: theoretical biology and the history of biology. The research project seeks to understand how the theoretical assumptions, analytical categories, and mathematical models of developmental biology arose in interaction with several layers of scientific, socio-economic, political, and cultural contexts. The research project thus focuses from multiple perspectives on scientific change. Its goal is to understand that change historically and conceptually and also to contribute to ongoing scientific debates. The educational and outreach activities are part of the growth and further development of the Biology and Society and History and Philosophy of Science (HPS) programs within the School of Life Sciences at Arizona State University. They include the development of interdisciplinary courses, such as the "Laboratory in the History of Biology," and seminars in history of biology for graduate and undergraduate students and the further development of a graduate and undergraduate curriculum in HPS and Biology and Society as a concentration of biology degrees. All these research and educational projects are geared towards developing a better understanding of how scientific knowledge is generated, and add important perspectives to interpretations of current scientific knowledge and its interactions with societal and policy decisions.
The Project will accomplish two major intellectual goals. First it will provide a rich understanding of the history and current state of theories of development and the multiple ways how three clusters of factors, (a) Scientific/Technical, (b) Actors/Places, and (c) Social/Cultural, interact in scientific change. Because of the importance of embryo research, this is of powerful intellectual value itself. The project focuses on theories as a lens to study changing patterns of embryo research more generally. Second, the understanding of the history of dynamics of theories of development will also be relevant for current issues of science policy, the public understanding of science, and theoretical discussions within developmental biology itself. The interdisciplinary project thus addresses different intellectual and policy communities.
This project has multiple broad impacts: (1) Due to its interdisciplinary focus, its questions and results will be relevant to multiple disciplinary communities. The project will also demonstrate the value of interdisciplinary research and training. (2) The Virtual Laboratory (VL) digital working environment supports this research and makes all research materials and scholarly interpretations available to multiple users. (3) The research will demonstrate how theories of development change within multiple scientific and societal contexts and include interpretations of the emerging patterns shaping science and societal decisions. This should also inform future decisions processes and policy-making. (4) Educational Materials will be developed for multiple user groups. (5) Graduate students and undergraduates, especially minority students, who are well represented within the Biology and Society program, will all be members of the research team, and each will be trained individually while adding their own results.