New Program Engages Scientists, Historians, and Philosophers in Collaborations at MBL

McDonnell Fellow Kate MacCord

McDonnell Fellow Kate MacCord

While historians and philosophers of science have long held discourse at the Marine Biological Laboratory – most notably at the annual Seminar in the History of Biology – MBL scientists have had few opportunities to interact with them and explore the rewards of interdisciplinary communication and collaboration.

This has just become much easier through a new initiative to connect historians and philosophers of science (HPS) with MBL experimentalists, with the goal of enriching and transforming the research discovery process for all. The program is co-led by historian and MBL Fellow Jane Maienschein, who is also Regents’, President’s and University Professor at Arizona State University, and incoming MBL Director of Research David Mark Welch. It is funded by the James S. McDonnell Foundation.

The program will encourage life scientists and HPS scholars – especially those at the early-career stage – to explore how their work is mutually informative through activities such as joint workshops and embedding scholars into MBL labs.

“All of the outcomes of this initiative will be interdisciplinary; for example, an edited volume with scientists and historians as contributors,” says Kate MacCord, who is administrative director of the new program as well as its first McDonnell Fellow.

“More importantly, the way we do science and the way we do history and philosophy of science should be changed by these interactions,” MacCord says.

As a McDonnell Fellow, MacCord, who received her Ph.D. at Arizona State University in 2017, is pursuing research on “the history and philosophy of morphogenesis and how it fits into [research on] evolutionary developmental biology – what we today call evo-devo,” she says. She is also working on a history of the MBL Embryology course.

The program will be adding other McDonnell Fellows for short-term collaborations with MBL scientists on topics of mutual interest.

Maienschein reports that this McDonnell Foundation grant is different from the traditional National Science Foundation awards that have made possible the MBL History Project, which she directs in collaboration with the MBL Archives.

“The forward-looking James S. McDonnell Foundation President Susan Fitzpatrick has challenged us to learn to think differently and ask better and more probing questions as a result of working together in new ways,” Maienschein says. “The leadership of McDonnell Fellow Kate MacCord will be critical in bringing people and ideas together. “


The Marine Biological Laboratory (MBL) is dedicated to scientific discovery – exploring fundamental biology, understanding marine biodiversity and the environment, and informing the human condition through research and education. Founded in Woods Hole, Massachusetts in 1888, the MBL is a private, nonprofit institution and an affiliate of the University of Chicago.