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Arnold Wilfrid Thackray
Arnold Thackray at podium ID2005.jpg
Arnold Thackray, 2005
Born (1939-07-30) July 30, 1939 (age 84)
northwest England
Nationality British
Alma mater Cambridge University
Occupation Science historian
Known for Founding President of the Chemical Heritage Foundation
Title Joseph Priestley Professor Emeritus
Awards Dexter Award
Scientific career
Thesis  (1966)
Doctoral advisor Mary Hesse

Arnold Thackray (born 30 July 1939) is an emeritus professor at the University of Pennsylvania. Initially an English chemist, he became an entrepreneurial American. Thackray founded or extended a series of institutions, initially in Philadelphia (Penn’s pioneering Department of History and Sociology of Science, and the Chemical Heritage Foundation—now the Science History Institute), then on a wider scale within the History of Science Society (HSS) and through Science History Consultants, and the Life Sciences Foundation.

Early life and education

Thackray was born in northwest England on July 30, 1939. At age 10 he became a Foundation Scholar at the Manchester Grammar School, the first locus of the meritocracy under the leadership of Eric James, Baron James of Rusholme. In 1960, he completed a Bachelor of Science (1st Class Honors) in chemistry at Bristol University. He worked as a chemical engineer before enrolling in graduate school to pursue his interest in the history of science. Thackray entered the doctoral program at Cambridge University in 1963, and studied under Mary Hesse, a leader in the field of philosophy of science. He earned a Doctor of Philosophy degree in 1966.

Academic and professional career

In the 1960s the United States was locus of and the leader in science, as well as the leader in the fledging field of science history. It is not surprising then that, PhD in hand, Thackray decided to seek his BTA—his 'been to America' degree. In September 1967 he intermitted his Fellowship to accept a one-year visiting lectureship at Harvard University, fully intending to return to the original Cambridge. Enjoying the competitive nature of American academe, he then chose to join the faculty of the University of Pennsylvania. When invited him to its regular faculty, Thackray chose instead to establish a novel Department of the History and Sociology of Science at the University of Pennsylvania (the first university department to concentrate on modern science, technology, and medicine in their social context.) He joined the faculty of the University of Pennsylvania, in 1968.

As chairman of the brand-new HSS Department, Thackray drew on faculty members from such disciplinary areas of the university as history, philosophy, anthropology, sociology, chemistry, physics, biology, engineering, English, and American civilization. His aim was to create the first university department to concentrate on ‘’modern science’’, technology, and medicine in their social context. Rather than embracing the prevailing orthodoxy of a focus on science as theoria, a search for the truth, and on a supposed "seventeenth century scientific revolution," Penn would focus on science, technology, and medicine over the 250 years of the more immediate past, with one obvious theme being American contributions.

Thackray was a member of the Penn faculty for 28 years, retiring in 1996 as Joseph Priestley Professor emeritus. His academic research has focused on the rise of modern science since the death of Isaac Newton, and on the interactions between the scientific community and society as a whole. He has mentored twenty PhD students and authored or edited a wide variety of scholarly books and articles. Additionally, he has been a member of the History of Science Society Executive Committee and editor of Isis and the HSS Newsletter (1978-1985), while also relaunching and editing Osiris (1984-1994). Additionally, Thackray has held visiting professorships at Bryn Mawr College (1968 through 1973), the London School of Economics (1971-1972), the Hebrew University of Jerusalem (1978), in addition to the Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton, NJ (1980), and the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences, Palo Alto, CA (1974 and 1984).

He also served as an Executive Committee member and Treasurer of the American Council of Learned Societies (1985-1995). He was one of the four co-founders of, and the 1982-83 President of, the Society for Social Studies of Science. He also participated on many review committees and advisory boards, such as those of the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation and the National Science Foundation. In his years at Penn, Arnold Thackray additionally served as curator of The Edgar Fahs Smith Memorial Collection in the History of Chemistry.

Chemical Heritage Foundation

A 1979-1980 task force led by historian John H. Wotiz resulted in a recommendation to the American Chemical Society that it create a center for the history of chemistry. In 1981, the American Chemical Society solicited proposals to develop such a center from interested parties. Thackray suggested that the center be at the University of Pennsylvania. To that end, he enlisted the help of Penn chemist Charles C. Price, who introduced Thackray to chemical industry executive and philanthropist John C. Haas. Haas elicited the interest of other influential figures in the chemical industry, especially DuPont Co. CEO Edward G. Jefferson and Dow Chemical Company CEO Paul Oreffice. By January 1982, ACS's positive response to Thackray's proposal had translated into $150,000 in funding, to be distributed over three years. The University of Pennsylvania agreed to a matching $150,000, composed in large measure of forgiven graduate-student tuition fees, plus a 25% decrease in Thackray's teaching load, without a reduction in salary. Thus was born the Center for the History of Chemistry (CHOC), initially housed in a scattering of offices across the Penn campus. CHOC's stated objective was "to discover and disseminate information about historical resources, and to encourage research, scholarship, and popular writing in the history of the chemical sciences and industries." Late in 1983, the American Institute of Chemical Engineers (AIChE) became a co-sponsor.

In 1987 CHOC was promised its first endowment. by eighty-seven year old Californian entrepreneur and chemist Arnold Beckman, in the form of a US $2 million gift, subject to matching 1:1 within 12 months. To hold this money ACS and AIChE incorporated a new non-profit, the National Foundation for the History of Chemistry. Then, almost immediately, a fresh challenge arose as eighty-three year old New York chemical engineer, Donald Othmer, made a rival pledge of $5 million, to be matched 1:1 within six months, to create an Othmer Library of Chemical History. In 1992, ‘’’both’’’ the Beckman Center for the History of Chemistry (BCHOC) and the Othmer Library of Chemical History (OLOCH) became components in what was renamed the Chemical Heritage Foundation (CHF). Faced by these rapidly multiplying realities, Professor Thackray sought to move CHF to a home of its own somewhere in the greater Philadelphia (Wilmington, DE to Princeton, NJ) area. The answer was found in a location rich in scientific history. The structure that had been built in 1865 as the First National Bank, which stood in the backyard of Benjamin Franklin's home, within what by the 1980s had become Philadelphia's Independence National Park. The 1993 purchase of the property was rapid. However, its build-out into a modern 120,000 sq. ft. facility took over a decade of planning and fundraising. The repurposed complex eventually included offices, archives, and space for the Othmer Library (itself steadily growing in size and stature as an internationally-acclaimed resource). Also deemed essential was a capacious public museum designed by Ralph Appelbaum to appeal to those curious about science and its changing social and historical contexts. The overall project was complete in 2008. Under Thackray's leadership, CHF steadily expanded its scope, its sponsoring organizations, its repertoire of visiting academic scholars, and its activities around the country and overseas. An annual Othmer Gold Medal was inaugurated in 1997, to honor individuals contributing to science through innovation, entrepreneurship, research, legislation, and philanthropy. The Award’s four sponsors were the ACS, the AIChE, The Chemists' Club, and the Société de Chimie Industrielle (American Section). A growing series of other medals and prizes followed, in partnership with relevant organizations in the USA and abroad, to honor pioneers in fields ranging from materials science to biotechnology.

Thackray served as president of CHF until 2009, after which time he served a seven-year term as Chancellor. Over the 28 years of his active leadership of a growing organization, and from a standing start, he raised a permanent endowment of $130 million, while investing almost $50 million to create CHF’s home.

Life Sciences Foundation

After stepping down as president of CHF, Thackray relocated to Silicon Valley. There he founded the Life Sciences Foundation . The foundation was conceived at a 2009 meeting with four biotechnology industry leaders. The group reasoned that biotech, by then 40 years old, had a poorly understood history. The time had come to document the heritage of biotechnology before it was lost. The Life Sciences Foundation was formed in 2011 to capture the stories of the industry’s founders, while increasing awareness of the field’s significance through oral histories, public events, and a variety of publications, including a free magazine.

An immediate success, within five years LSF had achieved substantial financial reserves, a growing public outreach and strong industry enthusiasm. The Life Sciences Foundation merged with the Chemical Heritage Foundation in 2015. In 2018 the combined organization was renamed the Science History Institute, to reflect its wider range of historical interests, from chemical sciences and engineering to the life sciences and biotechnology. In 2018 the combined organization was renamed the Science History Institute, to reflect its wider range of historical interests, from chemical sciences and engineering to the life sciences and biotechnology.

As early as 1986, through his meetings with industry leaders, Dr. Thackray had perceived the need for focused, confidential studies telling the stories of particular individuals and industrial companies. Thus was born Science History Consultants (SHC), as a minor component of his work. Building on an extensive knowledge of modern American technoscience, and its leaders and key events, Dr. Thackray has focused the last stages of his career to help key entrepreneurs tell their stories.

A series of books that he created through SHC runs from Journey: Seventy Five Years of Kodak Research (1986) and Out of Thin Air ( Air Products and Chemicals 1990) to varied studies of key individuals, as in George and Edith Rosenkranz (Syntex and the ... Pill 2011), Building a Petrochemical Industry in Saudi Arabia: the Life of Abdulaziz Abdullah Al-Zamil (2017), to Fred Kavil (Kavilco and the Kavli Prizes 2019)

Awards and honors

Thackray was the 1983 recipient of the Dexter Award of the American Chemical Society for his work on the history of chemistry. In 1984, Thackray received the George Sarton Memorial Lecturer Award at the American Association for the Advancement of Science with a presentation entitled "The Historian's Calling in the Age of Science". He was twice awarded fellowships from the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation (1971 and 1985). Thackray is a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the Royal Historical Society and the Royal Society of Chemistry Sigma XI, and the American Chemical Society, which sponsored a symposium in his honor in 2009.

Personal life

Thackray became a citizen of the United States in 1981. His first marriage to his English high school sweetheart lasted 25 years: Barbara (née Hughes) Thackray, is a physicist, who became a teacher at the Shipley School in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania. Their three children include Helen Thackray MD, a leading executive in biotechnology, Gillian, a prominent intellectual property lawyer and Timothy, who is autistic and differently abled. Thackray's wife since 1994 is Diana (née Schueler) Thackray, a sweet and wise Indiana farm-girl. Walking, gardening, reading, and raising roses have been his hobbies.

Selected publications

Chinese translation Moore's law: the life of Gordon Moore, Silicon Valley's quiet revolutionary (2017) Renmin University of China Press ISBN: 978-7300239231

Italian translation Atomi e force (1981) Bologna

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