UCL Department of Science and Technology Studies


Tobin, Emma

Senior Lecturer in Philosophy of Science & Deputy Head of Department

Emma Tobin

email: e.tobin (at) ucl.ac.uk
phone: 0207 679 1321 (internal 31321)

Skype: emmatobin

office: 22 Gordon Square, room 3.3
recent publications (UCL database)

office hours: Mondays 12:30-14:30



Emma joined STS in October 2010 and was promoted to Senior Lecturer in 2016. Emma was the STS Undergraduate Tutor from 2014- 2016. Previously, she was a postdoctoral research fellow on the AHRC Metaphysics of Science Project. She joined the Philosophy Department in Bristol in October 2006. After completing her B.A. in University College Dublin, Emma completed a Ph.D. at Trinity College Dublin, funded by the Irish Research Council for the Humanities and Social Sciences. She was also a visiting student at the Department of History and Philosophy of Science at Cambridge from May–August 2005, where she worked with Professor Peter Lipton. She was awarded her Ph.D. entitled ‘On the Disunity of the Sciences and Ceteris Paribus Laws’ in March 2006, examined by Prof. Stephen Mumford. (Ph.D. Abstract). Emma worked on an AHRC sponsored project on the Metaphysics of Science as a postdoctoral research fellow based in Bristol working with Alexander Bird from 2006-2010. More about the Metaphysics of Science Project

Emma is originally from West Cork in Ireland, married to Patrick and has two children Ailbhe and Cillian.


Emma's research interests are in the metaphysics of science; natural kinds, laws of nature and causation. Her current research is on natural kinds in biology and chemistry. Emma is interested in classification at the interface of a number of disciplines including biochemistry, evolutionary biochemistry, molecular biology, structural biology and astrobiology. She is particularly interested in the scientific classification of biomolecules and protein classification in particular and the problems that arise for classification in the context of biological complexity. Her other interests in the philosophy of science include include laws of nature, reductionism, scientific explanation and causation.


My current particular research interests are in metaphysics of science, particularly natural laws and natural kinds. I am currently working on a project in the philosophy of biochemistry, which considers the philosophical problems that face scientists when doing classification in the context of scientific practice.  More particularly, I am interested in protein classification as a case study for some of these difficulties. I am looking at these difficulties in the context of a number of subdisciplines in biology including, biochemistry, structural biology, astrobiology and molecular biology.

My more general interests in philosophy of science include causation, explanation, scientific realism, modelling, idealisation and approximation etc.

I am also interested in integrated history and philosophy of chemistry and I am an active member of Ad Hoc London, acting as co-organiser with Chiara Ambrosio of our monthly London Meetings. Please email me if you would like to be added to the mailing list. 

Metaphysics of Science Project

Previously, I was a core postdoctoral researcher on the AHRC sponsored project the Metaphysics of Science based in Bristol working with Alexander Bird from 2006-2010. This was a project based at the Universities of Birmingham, Bristol, and Nottingham. Other project members included Stephen Mumford, Markus Schrenk and Matt Tugby (Nottingham), Helen Beebee, Francis Longworth and Nigel Leary (Birmingham).

More about the Metaphysics of Science Project. As part of the project,I compiled a bibliography on Natural Kinds.



1. (with Chiara Ambrosio), 2016. Theory Choice in the History of Chemical Practices, (SpringerBriefs in Molecular Science), Springer.

Research Papers

  1. "Mechanisms and Natural Kinds" , The Routledge Handbook of Mechanisms and Mechaniscal Philosophy, Routledge Handbooks in Philosophy, Forthcoming July 2017.
  2. “Are Natural Kinds and Natural Properties Distinct?”, Metaphysics and Science, Stephen Mumford and Matt Tugby (eds.) Oxford University Press. (2015)
  3. “Chemical Laws” Science and Education, Special Issue on “Philosophy of Chemistry and the Teaching of Chemistry” (ed. Sibel Erduran) (2012), DOI: 10.1007/s11191-012-9445-9 Publishers Website
  4. "The Theory of Everything?", Review Essay on Ellis B. “The Metaphysics of Scientific Realism” for Metascience, (2012), (Publishers Website)
  5. “The Metaphysics of Determinable Kinds”, Properties, Powers and Structures: Issues in the Metaphysics of Realism, Alexander Bird, Brian Ellis and Howard Sankey (eds.), Routledge Studies in Metaphysics(Pdf Version)
  6. “Crosscutting Natural Kinds and the Hierarchy Thesis”, The Semantics and Metaphysics of Natural Kinds, Helen Beebee and Nigel Leary (eds.), Routledge Studies in Metaphysics, 2010. (Pdf Version) Publishers Website
  7. “Microstructuralism and Macromolecules: The case of moonlighting proteins”, Foundations of Chemistry, 2010, 12(1), 41-54. (Pdf Version) Publishers Website
  8. Natural Kinds”, (ed. Edward N. Zalta) Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (with Alexander Bird), September 2008.
  9. “Towards a New Model of Explanation for the Special Sciences”, Causality & Explanation: In Honor of Wesley Salmon, Autonomous University Press, 2006.
  10. What makes the Special Sciences Special – Exploring Scientific Methodology in the Special Sciences”, NOESIS, Cambridge Scholarly Press, 2005.

Book Reviews

  1. Review of Christoph Hoerl, Teresa McCormack and Sarah Beck (eds.), Understanding Counterfactuals, Understanding Causation, Oxford, Oxford University Press. Publishers Website
  2. Review of Dorato, M. The Software of the Universe, International Studies in the Philosophy of Science, (March 2008)
  3. Review of Mumford, S. Laws in Nature, The Journal of Logical Analysis and History of Philosophy, Vol. 9. 2006.
  4. Review of Ceteris Paribus Laws (eds.) Earman, Glymour & Mitchell, Kluwer, Dordrecht, 2002.) International Journal of Philosophical Studies, Vol. 12 No. 4, 2004.



  1. HPSC1003 Philosophy of Science 1
  2. HPSCGA28 Knowledge, Explanation and Classification

Term 2:

  1. HPSC3020 Philosophy of Natural Science

 STS Administrative Duties

  1. Deputy Head of Department
  2. Admissions and Recruitment Committee Chair


Philosophy for Children and in Primary Education

I have been developing a Philosophy currculum for Key Stage 1 and Key Stage 2 students, together with Mr James Field Headteacher at St Robert Southwell Catholic School in Horsham, West Sussex. The school has been piloting the curriculum in 2016/2017. The aim of the project is to help junior philosophers to engage in critical thinking and to be exposed to some of the key areas in philosophy such as aesthetics, metaphysics, political philosophy, ethics and epistemology. The project is currently at pilot stage, but if you are interested in introducing philosophy in your primary curriculum, please do get in touch with me.

Public Engagement with Science and Philosophy

In the past I have recorded a series of podcasts called "Thinking about Science": This podcast series is recorded at the STS studio here at UCL. It includes interviews with some leading scientists from various disciplines including, Prof Jon Butterworth (UCL, Physics/Cern), Dr Ian Crawford and Dr Lewis Dartnell (Astrobiology UCL), Dr Nick Lane, (Evolutionary Biochemistry, UCL) and Dr. Stephen Curry (Structural Biology, Imperial). I am interested in radio journalism about philosophical topics.


I am currently supervising a number of PhD students at STS, UCl.

  • Rory Jubber (as Primary Supervisor) (Oct 2015 - Present) Naturalism and Universals
  • Toby Friend (as Secondary Supervisor) (Oct 2014 - Present) Laws of Nature
  • Stephanie Ratcliffe as Primary Supervisor (Oct 2011 - 2015) Metaphysics of Science, Causation, Dispositions, Natural Kinds and Causal Processes in Chemistry
  • Yafeng Shen as Primary Supervisor (Oct 2012 - 2016) Scientific Systems, Scientific Paradigms and Incommensurability, Thomas Kuhn.
  • Hugh McKenzie as Secondary Supervisor (Oct 2011- Present) Part-Time Plato's Atomism

If you are interested in exploring potential PhD opportunities within STS at UCL please contact the Graduate Tutor in the first instance, although you are of course welcome to contact me directly to discuss potential areas of interest.