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UCL Mathematical & Physical Sciences

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Science & Technology Studies

Head of Department: Professor Joe Cain

UCL Department of Science and Technology Studies operates teaching programmes and academic research in history of science, philosophy of science, sociology and politics of science, and science communication. Collectively, we also specialise in the study of public engagement for schools, museums, and community groups. We abbreviate the department’s name as “STS”. Follow us on social media, such as Twitter (@stsucl).

STS was founded in the 1920s as the “Department of the History and Method of Science”. Then, the main goal of the discipline was to understand the reasons for science’s phenomenal success as a truth-seeking activity. In the 1930s, the discipline grew its focus to include “science and social responsibility” or “science and society,” which broadly meant researching how science and the scientific method could be applied to social problems in the public interest. After World War Two, the discipline increasingly asked critical questions about science and the use of basic research, under themes such as “science and the state,” “science and empire,” “science and gender,” or “science and power”. Research ethics became an important part of history and philosophy of science, too.

The department became “UCL Department of Science and Technology Studies” in 1993, when it launched an undergraduate degree programme in History and Philosophy of Science BSc (which remains the only single honours degree of its kind not only in London universities but across the whole United Kingdom). It also teamed up with academic experts in science journalism and long-form science writing to add a strong component in science communication. Additional undergraduate degrees followed and have evolved. These are culminating in our new undergraduate degree from 2019-2020, Sociology and Politics of Science BSc. STS also offers two masters degrees, covering the same areas, as well as doctoral programmes leading to PhD. 

Teaching in STS programmes consistently attracts praise from students and reviewers. For example, the department has scored 100 percent in overall satisfaction ratings in the UK National Student Survey (NSS) for 2013, 2014, and 2017. Staff members have won local and international awards for teaching, too.

Within UCL, STS is located within the Faculty of Mathematical and Physical Sciences. We are at home with scientists, mathematicians, and statisticians because most STS academics trained in these areas, or related ones. While some of us specialise in the physical or natural sciences, others specialise in medical sciences, biological sciences, or engineering sciences. From dinosaurs to self-driving cars, from chemical and biological weapons conventions to earthquake prediction and data science, STS academics cover an enormous range of subjects.

Despite being grouped with the natural sciences disciplines, STS academics share their research methods with colleagues in sister disciplines within the humanities and social sciences, such as history, philosophy, sociology, and journalism. From history of economics to the metaphysics of chemistry, from pragmatism to history of medicine in the Medieval Period, we contribute to the ways they also grow as disciplines. STS thrives in UCL’s multidisciplinary and transdisciplinary environment. 

We also nicely demonstrate how seemingly abstract research can speak to very real problems of the twenty-first century. For instance, one STS academic studies science policy as it developed during the government of Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. This helps us understand how science operates in the British civil service. Another academic researches the importance of recycling in the long history of chemistry, from alchemy to materials science. Still another academic researches the history of science and film to better understand how moving images are designed to present specific kinds of narratives about scientific discovery. This helps us train viewers to be better consumers of science in the media. The breadth of subjects covered in STS can feel staggering. For those in the department, it’s simply another day at the office.