Could Doing Things The Old-Fashioned Way Make Us Better Modern Scientists?
Popular Science|Spring 2020
Today, we imagine lab experiments as part of a separate realm from fine arts like painting or trades like carpentry.
Kate Baggaley

But artisans helped lay the groundwork for the scientific revolution. For the past five years, Pamela Smith, a historian of science at Columbia University in New York, has devoted herself to re-creating their long-forgotten techniques. “So much exploration, experimentation, and innovation happens in craft,” she says. “It’s the same as science; it’s the human exploration of the material world.”

Smith didn’t get into academia to spend her days gilding and mixing. “I’m not very handy,” she admits. Artisans caught her attention when she penned a dissertation on Johann Joachim Becher, a 17th-century writer who pondered the economics of alchemy and crafts. Then, while doing research for her 2004 book, The Body of the Artisan, she came across a 16th-century French manuscript containing nearly 1,000 sets of instructions, covering subjects from cannon casting to finding the best sand in Toulouse.

Continue reading your story on the app

Continue reading your story in the magazine

MORE STORIES FROM POPULAR SCIENCEView All

They Might Be Giants

A photographer-and-ecologist team are on a mission to document the forests’ mightiest members.

3 mins read
Popular Science
Winter 2020

Droplet Stoppers

Covid-19 made face masks a crucial part of every outfit, and we’re likely to don them in the future when we feel ill. Fortunately, there’s a style for every need.

1 min read
Popular Science
Winter 2020

Landing a Lifeline

For those whose livelihood depends on the ocean, a covid-spurred interruption in the seafood market might speed progress toward a more sustainable future—for them and for fish.

10+ mins read
Popular Science
Winter 2020

Headtrip – Your brain on video chat

Dating, Catching up with family, and going to happy hour are best in person.

1 min read
Popular Science
Winter 2020

Behind The Cover

Butterflies may seem delicate, but they are surprisingly tough.

1 min read
Popular Science
Winter 2020

Tales From the Field – A cold one on mars

Kellie Gerardi, bioastronautics researcher at the International Institute for Austronautical Science

1 min read
Popular Science
Winter 2020

The Needs Of The Few

Designing with the marginalized in mind can improve all of out lives.

6 mins read
Popular Science
Winter 2020

Life On The Line

On the Western edge of Borneo, a novel conservation-minded health-care model could provide the world with a blueprint to stop next pandemic before it starts.

10+ mins read
Popular Science
Winter 2020

waste watchers

YOU CAN TURN FOOD SCRAPS INTO FERTILIZER IN ALMOST ANY CONTAINER. THESE BINS USE THEIR OWN METHODS TO ENCOURAGE THE PROCESS, BUT BOTH KEEP BUGS AND STINK AT BAY.

1 min read
Popular Science
Winter 2020

why can't i forget how to ride a bike?

LEARNING TO PEDAL IS NO EASY FEAT.

1 min read
Popular Science
Winter 2020