3/20: Radium and the Secret of Life with Luis Campos

Long before the H-bomb associated radioactivity with death, many scientists at the dawn of the twentieth century believed that radium might somehow hold the secret to life. The swirl of provocative metaphors surrounding Marie Curie’s newly discovered radioactive element not only transformed physics and amazed the public, but also ultimately led to key insights into the origin of life, the nature of heredity, and the structure of the gene. From the creation in the test-tube of half-living microbes to the earliest emergence of genetic engineering, in this talk historian of science Luis Campos will explore the long half-life of radium’s biological legacy.

Luis Campos is the Baruch S. Blumberg NASA Chair of Astrobiology at the Library of Congress and Associate Chair of the History Department at the University of New Mexico. Trained in both biology and in the history and philosophy of science at Harvard University, Campos’ scholarship brings together archival discoveries with contemporary fieldwork at the intersection of biology and society.  He has written widely on the history of genetics and synthetic biology, and is the author of Radium and the Secret of Life (University of Chicago Press, 2015), Making Mutations: Objects, Practices, Contexts (Berlin, MPIWG, 2010), among numerous other articles. Campos is the newly elected Secretary of the international History of Science Society.

The Washington History Seminar is co-chaired by Eric Arnesen (George Washington University) and Christian Ostermann (Woodrow Wilson Center) and is sponsored jointly by the National History Center of the American Historical Association and the Wilson Center’s History and Public Policy Program. It meets weekly during the academic year. The seminar thanks the Society for Historians of American Foreign Relations and the George Washington University History Department for their support.