The intersection of biology and society: Working with the Arizona State University Embryo Project
Photograph from the Embryo Project Encyclopedia
This March and April I have taken some time away from Cambridge and I headed southwest to sunny Arizona where I am working at Arizona State University as a visiting scholar and fellow of the Embryo Project.
The Embryo Project, directed by Jane Maienschein and Manfred Laubichler, brings together researchers from a variety of disciplines who look at the history, science and various issues surrounding the growing fields of embryology, development and reproductive medicine. The goals of the project include: university education, research and public outreach. One of the major products of the EP is the Embryo Project Encyclopedia. This has been where a large part of my focus has been directed whilst at ASU. The EP Encyclopedia is an online open access encyclopedia with an enormous selection of what are called "found objects" such as photographs, and lecture slides. Additionally, it contains thousands of vigorously reviewed articles on topics such as people, technology, concepts, law, you name it, of importance to embryology, development and reproductive medicine. The target audience of the EP Encyclopedia are those with a ninth grade to undergraduate level education. Importantly, articles are written in an accessible way, making science and other technical concepts clear – even to those of us without a science background.
I am working amongst a group of individuals from a large variety of backgrounds. Among the five visiting scholars alone, there are backgrounds in history, biology, philosophy and sociology. I was drawn largely to the reproductive medicine emphasis of the project because of my PhD research on assisted human reproduction. However, I have so enjoyed learning about a whole new scope of issues and history within the areas of embryology, development and reproductive medicine – many of which were previously beyond my scope of knowledge. My PhD research on AHR has made me acutely aware of the importance of understanding the social implications of developing science and technologies. It has been terrific working with a group of like-minded individuals interested in the intersection of biology and society. My time here has certainly opened my eyes to a new range of perspectives on this interaction. I have also begun to consider other issues at this intersection for which the sociology has yet to be explored.
Having now been in Arizona for several weeks, I am amazed at how quickly the time is going. My time here has been spent immersed in classes, reading groups and labs. Primarily though, my focus has been on the EP Encyclopedia, including learning how to write for the EP Encyclopedia, reviewing preliminary drafts of other scholars' articles, and even a course on the review and editing process of the articles, and steps to put a reviewed article on the web. I am currently finishing up a draft of an EP Encyclopedia article, an entry on the Canadian Assisted Human Reproduction, 2004, a piece of legislation that is a predominant focus of my PhD research. Needless to say, writing a comprehensive and accessible EP Encyclopedia article is no easy task. Yet, I am enjoying the challenge. This is the first of many articles I hope to be able to contribute to the EP Encyclopedia both while I am in Arizona, and in future.
In the meantime, I look forward to two more weeks of training, writing, collaboration, and continuing to broaden my understanding of the history, science and a multitude of issues around embryology, development and reproductive medicine.
You can browse the Embryo Project Encyclopedia online here.