Claudia Wassman, M.D., Ph.D.
Stetten Fellow, 2005-2006

My Stetten project had the objective to document the NIH's contributions to the development of brain imaging techniques and their application to research in emotion. In particular, I investigated how modern biomedical imaging has altered our understanding of human emotions. The National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering (NIBIB) funded my fellowship. My scientific mentor during the Stetten year was Dr. Peter Kirchner, NIBIB.

A look at the NIH annual reports and lecture series from the 1950s through the 1970s reveals just how much modern brain imaging altered our understanding of human emotion. In these reports, emotions were conceptualized as “disorders,” as problems related to stress, and causes of psychosomatic illness. It was the dogma of the “psychic trauma” and “bad mothering” that scientists at the NIH argued against, who developed methods for brain imaging and who conducted the first brain imaging studies in patients with schizophrenia.

In 2001, when the National Institute of Mental Health and the Neurological Institute commemorated their 50th anniversaries, the NIH Record no longer listed emotion as disorders. Rather, they had become “ functions” of the brain, like memory and attention. This change from disorder to brain function was brought about by the extensive studies on the amygdala that began in the early 1980s and by the development and increasing sophistication of imaging techniques and their application to the study of the brain. Research conducted with brain imaging techniques in the lifesciences brought about not only a shift in the conceptualization of emotion and cognition. It toppled the central dogma that the adult brain is unchangeable. Even though historians contest the role of new technologies as leading forces in scientific progress and societal change, the case of biomedical imaging demonstrates that the role of technology as active agent is greater than historians or sociologists of science like to have it. While we might debate the quality of information obtained by brain imaging, we should not forget that brain imaging techniques are the only means we have at this moment in order to study the brain's functions in a living human being. This is a major achievement and as my project documents, the NIH has made, and continues to make ground-breaking contributions to the development of modern biomedical imaging techniques..

It was my honor to be the first Stetten Fellow to work with the National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and BioEngineering, the youngest of NIH institutes. My thanks go to all who have volunteered their time and talked to me about their research.

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Maya Ponte, Ph.D.
Medical Student, University of California-San Francisco
Stetten Fellow, 2004-2005


My Stetten project documented the history of research on prion diseases at the NIH at both the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Strokes (NINDS) and the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease (NIAID), especially the Rocky Mountain Laboratories branch, as well as the history of prion disease research that was conducted with NIH extramural funds. In addition, I examined the relationship between the research trajectories of scientists and public health concerns around prion disease transmission. Specifically, I documented the translation of the results of scientific investigations at policy and regulatory forums, such as the Food and Drug Administration's Transmissible Spongiform Encephalopathies Advisory Committee (TSEAC). My scientific mentor for this project was Dr. Richard Johnson.

The NINDS and the NIAID have both contributed greatly to the field of prion disease research. Research at the NINDS in the 1950s and 60s led by Carlton Gajdusek elucidated the causes and consequences of kuru, a prion disease that decimated the Fore tribe in New Guinea . Meanwhile, research at the NIAID Rocky Mountain Laboratories by William Hadlow provided a glimpse into the pathogenesis of scrapie, a prion disease that affects sheep and goats. While it was Hadlow that first recognized the similarities between these two diseases, Gajdusek would bring the notion of a common category of disease unified under the banner Transmissible Spongiform Encephalopathy into existence. Since then, extramural research funded in great measure by the NINDS has led to the development by Stanley Prusiner of the prion theory of disease causation. In addition, the torch has been passed at the NINDS Rocky Mountain Laboratories to a new generation of researchers, including Bruce Chesebro, Byron Caughey, and Suzette Priola, who have produced major insights into the functioning of these infectious particles at a cellular level.

Over the years, the management of prion disease by the FDA and other regulatory bodies has depended greatly on scientific work conducted by the aforementioned groups. In some instances, a new scientific finding in the laboratory has prompted concern over possible modes of transmission that in turn have generated meetings, discussions, and sometimes policy. In other cases the sequence was reversed, with concern over potential avenues of spread and the appropriate polices for managing them leading to greater research efforts into those areas. The feedback between scientists and regulators takes place on many levels, from scientific advisory committee meetings to informal phone calls. In all cases, the relationship between research and regulation is a strong one.

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Sara Shostak, Ph.D.
Professor of Sociology, Brandeis University
Stetten Fellow, 2003-2004


My Stetten project documented the history of genetically modified mouse models at the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) and National Toxicology Program (NTP). Specifically, I located the emergence of genetically modified mouse models in the history of the NIEHS and NTP research on environmental mutagenesis and molecular carcinogenesis. At the same time, I explored the contribution of genetically modified mouse models to the molecularization of the contemporary environmental health sciences.

It was my honor to be the first Stetten Fellow to work with the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences. I found the scientists of the NIEHS and NTP to be genuinely enthusiastic about my research project, in particular, as well as about the history of their Institute more generally. As such, in addition to conducting oral history interviews and reviewing documents pertaining to the development of genetically modified mouse models at the NIEHS and NTP, I also became actively involved with scientists, administrators, and staff across the Institute who have a strong interest in documenting and preserving the its history. In March of 2004, at the request of the Director of the Division of Research Coordination, Planning, and Translation, I gave a talk at the NIEHS which reviewed both the “why's” and the “how's” of preserving documents, records, and instruments. I created an index of the informal archives and repositories on the NIEHS campus and distributed it to interested parties. I also helped to facilitate the development of a history project (currently being conducted by History Associates) on the accomplishments of the Institute during Dr. Kenneth Olden's tenure as Director. Thus, I trust that the products of my Stetten fellowship will exceed my own research and writings, but rather will include a multitude of efforts to preserve the history of this important Institute.

NIEHS scientists, administrators, and staff have a strong awareness of the unique history of the Institute and its extensive contributions to environmental health science and policy in the United States. Many researchers maintain extensive documentation of the work conducted by their laboratories. The Office of Communication and Public Liaison is a virtual treasure trove of videotapes, posters, and binders of press releases and newspaper clippings. The Photography and Arts Branch has cabinets and hard drives full of photographs from Institute events and laboratories. The NIEHS library, itself an incredible resource, maintains an unofficial archive that includes microfiche copies of laboratory notebooks, annual reports, and some of the “founding documents” of the Institute (e.g., the reports of the planning commissions that led to the establishment of the NIEHS, records from the committee that selected the Research Triangle Park site for the NIEHS, etc.). However, there is no centralized or comprehensive archive for NIEHS history, beyond what records may be sent to the National Archives and Records Administration. Now is the time to meet the challenge of preserving the history of the NIEHS, as many of the scientists and administrators who have worked at the Institute since its first days are beginning to retire (and some have already passed on). There is a strong feeling at the NIEHS that papers, notebooks, other documents and instruments ought to be stored on site, rather than in Bethesda. Therefore, I urge the Office of NIH History and the NIEHS to work together to identify and implement a strategy for preserving the history of the NIEHS on the Research Triangle Park campus.

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Jessie Saul, Ph.D.
Research Program Manager
Minnesota Partnership for Action Against Tobacco
Stetten Fellow, 2002-2003


My year as a Stetten fellow was an invaluable opportunity to conduct an historical research project with some of the leading scientists in blood banking and blood safety. Dr. Harvey Kline served as my scientific mentor, and was extremely helpful in familiarizing me with the resources I had available to me, and introducing me to the other scientists at the NIH and FDA. I also worked closely with Dr. Harvey Alter, one of the leading scientists in hepatitis research. Dr. Alter's work provided the foundation for an understanding of the history of blood safety research at the NIH.

My project consisted of examining how the scientists involved in hepatitis and AIDS research and blood in the 1960s through the 1990s managed the practical matters of risk identification as well as making decisions about directions for research on ways to increase safety for patients, clinicians, laboratory technicians, and researchers. The research was designed to answer the question: How did scientific and clinical research practices and the identification of threats to safety co-evolve in the context of blood-borne viral risks in the blood supply? By research practices, I included such things as laboratory bench practices, lab meetings and discussions, decisions about directions for research, etc. I also examined corollary questions, such as: Which institutions and organizations served as centers of expertise on emerging risks? How did scientists from those organizations determine what constitutes a threat to safety? How did practices designed to keep laboratory technicians safe correspond to those designed to protect the safety of patients, clinical physicians, or nurses?

One of the laudable goals of the Stetten fellowship program is to establish connections between the Office of NIH History and other Institutes within the NIH complex. Since there had never been a Stetten fellow working with the Clinical Center, the work I did served to expand the awareness of the History Office among scientists working in the Clinical Center, especially among those in the Blood Bank. In addition, I attended lectures at the National Library of Medicine, and worked with PHS historian Dr. Parascandola, as well as FDA historian Dr. John Swann. Since many documents relating to blood safety research were produced and archived at the PHS and FDA, their guidance and assistance made it possible to collect many documents that I used in my final presentation and website. In the course of my research I interviewed NIH scientists, phlebotomists, and laboratory technologists. In addition, I interviewed FDA officials (past nad present), occupational health experts at the NIH and elsewhere, and military scientists. Working under the aegis of the NIH gave me entrée to people and institutions that might never have been possible through other means.

One challenge I faced while conducting my Stetten research was the lack of centralization of documents. In many cases, individuals would know exactly which documents would be helpful for my research, but they had not been archived systematically, and had been lost. This implies several things: 1) There is a need for a well-funded and well-staffed centralized archive for NIH documents. Currently each institute collects and archives papers from its own scientists. However, as I found, this is not done systematically or consistently. It would be an incredible historical and scientific resource if such an archival system was put into place. The Office of NIH History is currently implementing a pilot project to investigate the effectiveness and cost of such a systematic archiving project, which I believe will demonstrate both the demand for such a system and its feasibility, given adequate personnel and funds. 2) There is a dearth of awareness and knowledge among NIH scientists (other than those who have worked closely with Stetten fellows or others at the Office of NIH History) about the importance of saving papers other than published manuscripts. Laboratory notebooks, interim policy documents, lab meeting minutes, personnel rosters, photographs of the laboratory spaces, and correspondence are just a few of the documents that I would have found to be very helpful. Historians of science struggle with this constantly, but it is an important endeavor to educate NIH scientists of the need to save their papers.

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Ingrid Farerras, Ph.D.
Professor, History of Psychology, Hood College
Stetten Fellow, 2001-2003


As a Stetten Fellow, my project was to document historically the establishment, mission, development, and research of the NIMH Intramural Laboratory of Psychology, which later became the Laboratory of Psychology and Psychopathology and is today's Laboratory of Brain and Cognition. Early members of the Lab, as well as certain lines of research, spread out to other NIMH Laboratories and NIH Institutes, such as the NIMH Laboratory of Developmental Psychology, the NIMH Laboratory of Neuropsychology, and the National Institute on Aging.

The Laboratory of Psychology was established in 1953 and during my first fellowship year I focused mostly on its history during the 1950s and 1960s. In my second year fellowship, however, I was able to locate and conduct oral histories of scientists who were members of the laboratory during the 1970s, a critical transition time between the end of David Rosenthal's tenure as Chief and the beginning of Allan Mirsky's tenure. David Rosenthal had renamed the laboratory the Laboratory of Psychology and Psychopathology after David Shakow's retirement in 1966, but by the mid 1970s, the original six sections - Aging, Animal Behavior (Neuropsychology), Developmental Psychology, Perception and Learning, Personality, and the Chief's Section - which reflected the original breadth of the psychological field and NIMH's original expansive mission, hardly existed. Aging, Developmental Psychology, Perception and Learning, and Personality disappeared, Neuropsychology became its own Laboratory, still under Haldor Rosvold. Rosenthal, and then Mirsky, remained with the Section of the Chief as the core and sole component of the laboratory.

Building on my knowledge of the history of the laboratory - for which I had required studying the Office of NIH History's collection of telephone books and scientific directories of the era - I spent the remaining eight months of the second fellowship year reconstructing not just the psychology laboratory but also all of the other laboratories and branches of both the NIMH and NINDB intramural programs: 17 in total. The primary aim was to identify all of the scientists who worked in these 17 branches and laboratories during the 1950s, determine which of them were alive or deceased, and locate all of those who were still alive in order to invite them to a symposium in which they would share (and the History Office record and preserve) the only remaining first-hand accounts of what the intramural research of these two institutes was during their first decade of existence.

As part of my second fellowship year I organized a symposium in which former NIH scientists discussed the work being done at NIMH and NINDS in the 1950s and 1960s. Over 120 current and former scientists from the 1950s were still alive and invited to participate in the symposium and almost half of those were able to attend on April 11, 2003. In addition to the 12 videotaped and webcast first-person talks that were given in the one-day symposium, many attendees also brought or later sent valuable primary documents such as correspondence, slides, reprints, and memos to donate to the History Office. After the symposium, Drs. Harden, Hannaway, and I co-edited a historical volume on NIMH's and NINDB's 1950s intramural research, Mind, Brain, Body, and Behavior: Foundations of Neuroscience and Behavioral Research at the National Institutes of Health which was published by IOS Press.

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Buhm Soon Park, Ph.D.
Associate Historian, Office of NIH History
Stetten Fellow, 1999-2003


After writing my dissertation on the history of quantum chemistry, I wanted to explore a new subject. Thus I joined the NIH as a Stetten Fellow in 1999 to work on the history of X-ray crystallography. Since then, I have learned and practiced “writing history while it happens.” Most historical actors that I have examined are present not in archival documents but in their laboratories and offices. The oral history interview is thus a necessity, not an option, especially in terms of getting access to further sources. I have found myself no longer a passive historian working at the mercy of the availability of historical materials in archives, but an active historian engaged in collecting and saving important objects, documents, and memories. To me, “writing history while it happens” has been a challenging yet rewarding task.

The evolution of my research project illustrates the ways in which NIH scientists have helped me find interesting areas of historical investigation. In the beginning, my research was focused on examining one scientist-Dr. David R. Davies's important contributions to the study of nucleic acids and proteins with X-ray crystallography as a section chief in the Laboratory of Molecular Biology, National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK). In the course of time, however, Dr. Davies encouraged me to meet with other members of the laboratory and expand the scope of my research to the whole laboratory. While working on this subject, I was also invited to study scientific careers of Drs. Earl Stadtman and Thressa Stadtman, distinguished biochemists of the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI). This opportunity allows me to stay more years at NIH.

During my two years as a Stetten Fellow, I have enjoyed interacting not only with scientists but also with historians in the Washington D.C. area-NIH History Office, National Library of Medicine, Public Health Service, Smithsonian Institution, and local universities. I have come to see a variety of historical work for the general public, the federal government, and the scholar. With no doubt, the Stetten Fellowship has given me an opportunity to have new experiences as a historian.

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Marcia L. Meldrum, Ph.D.
Independent Scholar
Co-Director, History of Pain Project, UCLA
Stetten Fellow, 1998-99


What kind of project benefits from a Stetten Fellowship? I would say any historian with an interest in twentieth-century science can learn and gain new perspective on their project from being here. The key is to be open to understanding the many interconnections between scientific fields and the ways in which an idea, technology, or topic can be applied in many laboratories. It helps too to think a bit like an anthropologist, for here you will find scientists in their native habitat.

For me, the Stetten Fellowship was a unique opportunity for me to observe and discuss in real time the research activities I had heard and read about in studying the history of pain science and medicine. Since pain research at NIH is so diverse, I was able to learn about work in neurophysiology, neurochemistry, pharmacology, dental anesthesia, psychology, brain imaging, and molecular biology; and to observe how scientists in these different fields interacted with each other. These new perspectives will inform every aspect of my future work.

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Mark Parascandola, Ph.D.
Fellow, Department of Clinical Bioethics, National Institutes of Health
Stetten Fellow, 1997-98


As a historian and philosopher of science, I am interested in how scientific evidence is used in policy making and the different ways in which scientists and decision makers evaluate evidence. When I arrived at NIH to start the Stetten Fellowship in the fall of 1997, I chose to look at the debates over the evidence linking cigarettes and lung cancer during the 1950s. NIH played a key role in this early research and also in setting public health policy on tobacco.

Being at NIH provided some unique research opportunities. I was able to interview scientists who were involved in those events and study archived records in the Office of the Director and the National Cancer Institute. The National Library of Medicine also held personal papers of some of the key figures.

Additionally, I found being in a government medical research environment a useful experience for understanding the relationship between research and policy. This is an experience I could not have received in a traditional history or philosophy department. I'm currently a post-doc fellow in the Department of Clinical Bioethics at NIH, where I'm continuing my work on the role of epidemiology in public health policy.

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Eric Francoeur, Ph.D.
Fellow, Max Planck Institute, Berlin, Germany
Stetten Fellow, 1994-95


I came to the NIH as a doctoral student with an interest in issues of visualization and representation in scientific practice. My project concerned the design and use of molecular models for research on the structure of proteins and nucleic acids. One of my particular focus was the Corey-Pauling-Koltun space-filling models, whose development in the early 1960s was partly sponsored by the NIH. In retrospect, I have to admit that I came to the NIH without knowing exactly what to expect, and the experience in the end proved fruitful in ways that I had not foreseen. The most direct and obvious benefits of the Fellowship were of course financial support and a working space most graduate students simply dream of. I also benefited from my residence on the NIH campus in a number of ways. The services of the NIH Library and National Library of Medicine proved invaluable, providing me with a quick and easy access to all the relevant published sources. My presence on the campus also meant easy and direct contact with both active and retired researchers who have provided with a wealth of valuable information. The Structural Biology Interest Group, whose meetings I attended regularly (and whose members made me feel quite welcome), proved essential in helping me develop these contacts. Other institutions and organizations in the D.C. area, especially the American Association for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, proved an important source of archival documents. All these resources provided me with material essential for the completion of my Ph.D. thesis.

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Caroline Jean Acker, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor, Department of History, Carnegie Mellon University
Stetten Fellow, 1993-94


When I began my year as Stetten Fellow, I had just completed a dissertation on medical and scientific studies of opiate addiction from 1900 to 1940. One component of my dissertation examined a pharmacology project, administered by the National Research Council, to identify a nonaddicting opiate analgesic that might replace morphine so that physicians would not have to prescribe an addictive drug to relieve their patients' pain. In 1939, the organic chemists and pharmacologists working on this project came to the National Institute of Health; today's Laboratory of Medicinal Chemistry in the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases is an institutional descendant of this group. During my Stetten Fellowship year, I completed two pieces of research on opiate pharmacology carried out under the sponsorship of the Public Health Service and, substantially, at the NIH.

The papers of chemist Lyndon Small at the National Library of Medicine let me follow each phase of the chemical and pharmacological research that led to the development of the first reliable addictiveness assay and to the production of compounds which showed that analgesic power and addictiveness could be separately heightened or diminished through the production of new compounds. Small's laboratory notebooks, still at the Laboratory of Medicinal Chemistry, were also an invaluable resource. Examining the correspondence of chemists developing novel compounds, pharmacologists determining the compounds' effects through animal testing, and clinicians studying their addictive properties at the Addiction Research Center at the PHS Narcotic Hospital in Lexington, Kentucky, I was able to trace in detail how ideas about addictiveness, and about how to test potential medicines, were developed and tested. This research appeared as “Addiction and the Laboratory: The Work of the National Research Council's Committee on Drug Addiction, 1928-1939,” Isis 86 (1995) 2:166-93).

Through interviews with scientists and a systematic search through several decades of volumes of the Journal of Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics and the Journal of Medicinal Chemistry (both available in the NIH Library in the Clinical Center), I then followed the progress of opiate pharmacology from 1940 into the 1970s. From this research, I wrote a paper on the emergence of the agonist, antagonist and mixed agonist-antagonist concepts in opiate pharmacology. Titled “Planning and Serendipity in the Search for a Nonaddicting Opiate Analgesic” (in Gregory J. Higby and Elaine C. Stroud, eds., The Inside Story of Medicines: A Symposium, American Institute of the History of Pharmacy , 1997), the article also explored how scientists account for seemingly anomalous results. This article laid the basis for a major project in which I plan to study the role of opiate pharmacology, through the production of compounds used as probes of brain function, in the discovery of the opiate receptor sites and the body's own morphine-like compounds. In this way, opiate pharmacology contributed to the emergence of neuroscience.

No amount of purely documentary research could replace what I learned spending a year at a campus where I could interact on a daily basis with biomedical scientists at work on current problems. Besides access to unparalleled library and archival sources for the history of the biomedical sciences, the Stetten Fellowship provided me constant enrichment through scientists' frequent presentations of research that related to my interests, and through conversations with working scientists about how they formulated research questions and devised technical means of testing hypotheses. The time to pore over primary sources and to spend hours reading the burgeoning literature in history of science let me develop my ideas carefully and fully, without the distractions of administrative work or teaching. These less tangible resources were as crucial to what I learned as the more traditional historical tools of documentary evidence.

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Last updated: 16 June 2009
First published: 2 February 2005
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