Dr Patricia Fara
Director of Studies in HPS
Affiliated Lecturer in HPS
t: (01223) 333248
What is your subject and specific area of study?
I read physics as an undergraduate, but soon realised that I hated practicals and preferred thinking about some of the big questions – Does gravity exist? Do experiments yield definitive proof? What is the difference between me as I am now and me after I have died? Fifteen years later, still fascinated by such issues, I went back to university and started studying the history and philosophy of science. Perhaps because I began graduate studies so late, I became committed to sharing my enthusiasm with other people, and since then I’ve written several popular books, including ones on Isaac Newton, exploration and women in science. Looking back, I realize that my PhD covered an unusually large topic – magnetism in the eighteenth century (I did at least restrict it to Great Britain!). Just as when I was a physics student, I’m still preoccupied by a big question: how has science come to dominate modern society? That’s what I’ve tried to answer in my latest book, which is called Science: A Four Thousand Year History.
What makes Clare College such a good place to study your subject?
The Cambridge History and Philosophy of Science (HPS) department is small, but generally held to be in the top five of the whole world. Very few colleges have an HPS fellow, but Clare has two – Dr Patricia Fara (the Director of Studies), who is a historian, and Dr Tim Lewens, a philosopher who specialises in biological ethics. In the second year of the NatSci Tripos, students choose three subjects, and one of the options on offer is HPS; in the third year, students can specialise in HPS, and this is very popular with Medics and Vets; in addition, from 2009, there will be a fourth-year course at MPhil level. Even if you decide to go on and become a professional scientist, there are (at least) three good reasons for choosing HPS. For one thing, HPS helps you to understand the processes of building up scientific knowledge, and to appreciate science’s goals, limitations and debates. Another benefit is that you learn how to weigh up information and present your own ideas clearly, both invaluable skills for writing reports or making grant applications. And perhaps most importantly, HPS is fun! Undergraduates who take HPS enjoy the opportunity of reading, thinking for themselves, and discovering that some questions just can’t be answered by finding out more facts.
Science: A Four Thousand Year History
(Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009)
(Duxford: Wizard Books, 2005)
Fatal Attraction: Magnetic Mysteries of the Enlightenment
(Duxford: Icon Books, 2005)
Pandora’s breeches: women, science and power
(London: Pimlico, 2004)
Sex, botany and empire: the stories of Carl Linnaeus and Joseph Banks
(Duxford: Icon Books, 2003)
Newton: the making of genius
(London: Macmillan, 2002)
An entertainment for angels: electricity in the Enlightenment
(Duxford: Icon Books, 2002)
(Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1998)
Sympathetic attractions: magnetic practices, beliefs, and symbolism in eighteenth-century England
(Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1996)
The changing world (co-edited)
(Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996)