Catherine M. Jackson


Catherine M. Jackson


As chemist and historian, my interest is in science as a learned, material, collective practice.  At present, I’m focused on completing my first book – a history of the origins and development of synthetic organic chemistry in nineteenth century Germany.  My study, called Material World: Making Modern Chemistry, explains the rise of this powerful and productive science.  Built on a radical revision in our understanding of the accomplishments of one of history’s most famous chemists, Justus Liebig, my work explains why chemists began doing organic synthesis, and what it allowed them to do.  It’s a story of personal ambition and heated dispute, of broken dreams and broken glass, of high theory and low cunning, of indecipherable notebooks and imperial ambition.  By 1900, organic synthesis had launched mighty industries, transformed molecular understanding of organic nature, and laid the foundations for the molecular life sciences.  My book provides the first historical explanation of these remarkable achievements.  In doing so it contributes to our understanding of the rise of technical modernity.

Research for Material World highlighted the importance of glass and glassblowing to the science of chemistry, and it has led me to develop a collaborative project (with master scientific glassblower Tracy Drier, UW-Madison, Chemistry) that examines the essential role of flame worked glassware in mediating chemists’ interactions with the molecular microworld.  The spaces inside glass bring skill, fire, and substance together to make new worlds.  Their shape and content are subject to minute control, they’re impervious to corrosive chemicals, yet they’re so fragile almost none remains from the past.  Generations of chemists fought over the meaning of these spaces, saw things inside that we cannot, and taught us to share their vision with colored ball-and-stick models.  That’s why I’m calling this project Microheterotopias.

Click here to view Jackson and Drier’s recently televised public lecture on Microheterotopias.


Ph.D., University of London, History of Science, 2009
M.Sc., University of London, History of Science, Technology and Medicine, 2004
M.A., Clare College, Cambridge, Natural Sciences, 1999
Postgraduate Certificate in Education, King’s College, London, Chemistry, 1998
Ph.D., Clare College, Cambridge, Organic Chemistry, 1989


Selected Publications

  • “Laboratorium” section in Marianne Sommer, Staffan Müller-Wille, and Carsten Reinhardt, eds., Handbuch Wissenschaftsgeschichte (JB Metzler, 2017).
  • “Emil Fischer and the ‘Art of Chemical Experimentation’,” History of Science 55 (2017), 86-120.
  • Catherine M. Jackson and Tracy O. Drier, “Liebig’s Kaliapparat and the Origins of Scientific Glassblowing,” Fusion: Journal of the American Scientific Glassblowers Society (2017), 19-24.
  • “Laboratory” section in Bernard Lightman, ed., Companion to the History of Science (Blackwell-Wiley, 2016).
  • “The ‘Wonderful Properties of Glass’: Liebig’s Kaliapparat and the Practice of Chemistry in Glass,” Isis 106 (2015), 43-69.
  • “Chemical Identity Crisis: Glass and Glassblowing in the Identification of Organic Compounds,” Annals of Science 72 (2015), 187-205.
  • “The Curious Case of Coniine: Constructive Synthesis and Aromatic Structure Theory” section in Ursula Klein and Carsten Reinhardt, eds., Objects of Chemical Inquiry (Science History Publications, 2014).
  • “Synthetical Experiments and Alkaloid Analogues: Liebig, Hofmann and the origins of organic synthesis,” Historical Studies in the Natural Sciences 44 (2014), 319-363. Awarded 2014 Liebig-Woehler-Freundschaftspreis.
  • “Chemistry as the Defining Science: discipline and training in nineteenth-century chemical laboratories,” Endeavour 35 (2011), 55-62.
  • “Visible Work: the Role of Students in the Creation of Justus Liebig’s Giessen Research School,” Notes and Records of the Royal Society 62 (2008), 31-49.
  • “Re-examining the research school: August Wilhelm Hofmann and the re-creation of a Liebigian research school in London,” History of Science 44 (2006), 281-319.

Courses Taught