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March 31 @ 4:00 pm - 5:30 pm
“The Arts of the Microbial World: Fermentation Science in Twentieth-Century Japan”
Assistant Professor of History
Thursday, March 31, 2022
4:00 – 5:30 PM
Special Collections department of the Memorial Library (Room 984, 9th floor)
The room will open at 3:45 and the session will begin at 4:00. A Wiscard is required to enter the library.
This talk explores how Japanese scientists and skilled workers sought to use the microbe’s natural processes to create new products, from soy-sauce mold starters to MSG, vitamins to statins. In traditional brewing houses as well as in the food, fine chemical, and pharmaceutical industries across Japan, they showcased their ability to deal with the enormous sensitivity and variety of the microbial world. Charting developments in fermentation science from the turn of the twentieth century, when Japan was an industrializing country on the periphery of the world economy, to 1980 when it had emerged as a global technological and economic power, the talk highlights the role of indigenous techniques in modern science as it took shape in Japan. In doing so, it reveals how knowledge of microbes lay at the heart of some of Japan’s most prominent technological breakthroughs in the global economy. At a moment when twenty-first-century developments in the fields of antibiotic resistance, the microbiome, and green chemistry suggest that the traditional eradication-based approach to the microbial world is unsustainable, twentieth-century Japanese microbiology provides a new, broader vantage for understanding and managing microbial interactions with society.
Presented by the History of Science, Medicine, and Technology