University of Calgary

Workshop explores The Place of the Laboratory

UToday HomeJune 18, 2013

By Paula Larsson
MA student, History Department

Stephen Pow (U of C), Frank Stahnisch (U of C), Steve Sturdy (University of Edinburgh) and Cindy Stelmackowich (Dalhousie University) with workshop participants at the evening excursion to Barrier Lake after workshop Day 1.Stephen Pow (U of C), Frank Stahnisch (U of C), Steve Sturdy (University of Edinburgh) and Cindy Stelmackowich (Dalhousie University) with workshop participants at the evening excursion to Barrier Lake after a workshop Day 1.University of Sydney researcher Chris Degeling and Faculty of Arts associate professor Frank Stahnisch recently teamed up with the SSHRC-funded initiative, Situating Science – Science in Human Contexts at a workshop titled, Where is the Laboratory Now? Representation, Intervention, and Realism in the 19th and 20th Century Biomedical Sciences.

Guest lecturers were flown in from across Canada and the UK to present at this workshop. Prominent scholar Steve Sturdy served as the keynote speaker and gave two fascinating presentations on translational medicine. Sturdy is the head of Science, Technology and Innovation Studies at the University of Edinburgh, Scotland.

The workshop (also supported by the Institute for Public Health and the STAS and HPS Programs, Faculty of Arts) was ideally located in the historic Biogeoscience Institute in Kananaskis Country. Participants found themselves immersed in a field lab setting for the weekend. “The setting really made the workshop,” said Zachary Cox, one of the student participants. “It enabled both visual and mental representations of the laboratory to be discussed and redefined.” Similar sentiments were shared by Cindy Stelmackowich, a presenter from Dalhousie University. She said, “The biological field station in Kananaskis was indeed a very relevant ‘enriched environment’ for this event.”

The workshop incorporated an array of topics relating to the history of the laboratory in biomedicine and allied sciences. Discussions circled around the development of early psychology laboratories, early laboratory instruments, travelling laboratories, changing laboratories, and the shift in focus of laboratory science over the 20th century.

The participants delved into the various definitions of a “laboratory,” even debating the nature of new “virtual laboratories.” This workshop was a thought-provoking journey to an understanding of the place held by the laboratory within medical practise.

Participants finished the weekend with a deeper understanding of the purpose and place of the laboratory – and perhaps more questions than they came with. Nonetheless, the workshop was a fruitful endeavour and a significant finish to the workshop aspect of Situating Science. Many participants echoed the sentiment of Dalhousie University’s Stelmackowich when she said, “Presenting a paper at this workshop that explored the interplay of biomedical objects, theories and pedagogical techniques in biomedical laboratories and interventions, was a very positive and enjoyable experience.”

For further information, see: http://www.situsci.ca/event/where-laboratory-now-“representation”-“intervention”-and-“realism”-19th-and-20th-century-biome