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College of Arts & Humanities Gets $1M to Endow History of Natural Sciences Professorship

April 25, 2019 History

AIP PhotoIllustration 1

Gift from American Institute of Physics will also support research collaborations and student opportunities.

By Lorraine Graham | Maryland Today

The American Institute of Physics (AIP) signed a $1 million pledge to the College of Arts and Humanities (ARHU) yesterday to help uncover stories of scientific discovery while illuminating complex societal issues that scientists and scholars in the humanities both face.

The gift will establish an endowed professorship in the history of natural sciences and support the appointee’s humanistic and scientific research and scholarship through a partnership with AIP’s Center for History of Physics. Collaborations with AIP staff and member societies will encourage deeper insight into the nature and origin of the physical sciences and their impact on society.

AIP Loh & Moloney Signing by Thai Nuygen
Michael H. Moloney, chief executive officer at AIP, signs the gift with President Wallace D. Loh. (Photo by Thai Nuygen)

"Bringing the sciences and humanities together is important for telling not only the compelling history of discovery, but also inspiring the next generation of scholars in both fields," said Michael Moloney, chief executive officer of the institute, based in Greater College Park’s Discovery District. "This partnership will help us cultivate a diverse and inclusive community."

The professorship is an opportunity to apply interdisciplinary approaches to complex global issues, like the renewed debate on nuclear energy, said Peter Wien, professor and interim chair of the history department.

"Both humanists and scientists are rooted in the concerns and debates of contemporary culture," Wien said. "A scientist might measure the impact of nuclear contamination or devise new methods for storing nuclear waste, whereas a historian might critically engage with the history of how nuclear energy was developed or trace how popular opinion about certain kinds of energy have changed over time. When students learn to put these two approaches in conversation with each other, they gain a deeper understanding of the problems that all of humanity is facing today."

Universities nationwide, including Maryland, are exploring new ways for arts and humanities disciplines and the sciences to collaborate with each other; the AIP gift supports efforts by the College of Arts and Humanities to increase interdisciplinary learning opportunities, said Bonnie Thornton Dill, ARHU dean as well as a member of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine’s committee on the integration of STEM, humanities and arts.

AIP Reception JJ Nelson
Philip "Bo" Hammer, senior director of member society engagement at AIP; Peter Wien, professor and interim chair of the history department; Moloney; Bonnie Thornton Dill, professor and dean of the College of Arts and Humanities; and Greg Good, director of the Center for History of Physics at AIP gather to celebrate. (Photo by Jeanette J. Nelson)

"Cross-disciplinary exchange produces new knowledge and inspires learning and exploration," said Thornton Dill. "History helps us understand the processes and people that have shaped science, and AIP's generosity expands support for research and will enhance learning opportunities for students, preparing them with the diverse competencies and knowledge that employers today seek.”

In addition to collaborating with AIP on conferences and public lectures, the appointee will have access to AIP’s Niels Bohr Library and Archives, as well as the recently acquired Wenner Collection containing nearly 4,000 volumes of rare books and manuscripts documenting discoveries in the physical sciences going back 500 years.

The Wenner Collection is still being catalogued and integrated into the other treasures in the Niels Bohr Library and Archives, but AIP hopes the appointee will contribute to new ways of thinking about the collections. "There are many stories in the history of science that have not been told," said Moloney. "In collaboration with UMD, one challenge is to use these collections to tell the story of discovery in a way that we hope will inspire the next generation of scientists and historians and especially contribute to our goal of greater inclusion of women and underrepresented minorities in our field."

A search is under way for a senior scholar to assume the professorship in Fall 2019.

(Photo illustration by John T. Consoli, images by iStock)