Simone Turchetti, MSc, PhD

Professor of History of Science and Technology,

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Personal profile

Research interests

  • History of 20th Century Science and Technology
  • Science and International Relations
  • History of the geosciences
  • History of nuclear weapons and nuclear science
  • Historiography of science

I am primarily interested in the historical study of "science diplomacy"; the use of international scientific collaborations as a way to build relations between states and within international organizations. I am pursuing an interdisciplinary research programme which aims to provide a novel picture of the relations existing between the scientific community and the world of international relations, especially during the post-WW2 period and the Cold War years. I am also looking for ways to take these historical reflections into the present examining for instance the legacy of debates and policies on climate and environmental change, and atomic energy.

My international roles 

I am contributing to promote history of science studies and the study of science diplomacy:

- I am the president and one of the founders of the IUHPST/DHST Commission on Science, Technology and Diplomacy (STAND) In 2017 we suggested that our International Union's Division of History of Science and Technology set up a new commission devoted to the study of science, tecnology and diplomacy in the understanding of the importance and impact of this study in our field, especially to understand and interpret developments in the 20th century and beyond. Since then the Commission has been an engine of scholarly activities including promoting meetings, publishing special issues and assisting early-career scholars.  You can see some of our publications here, here and here.

- Since 2018 I am the secretary of the European Society for the History of Science, one of the largest societies in our discipline (est. 2003) and the one promoting world-wide engagement with the historical study of the modern sciences. 

My research on Science Diplomacy - NEWORLD@A, 2022-2027

- Since 2022 I am the PI for a new project sponsored by the European Research Council and entitled Neworld@a: Negotiating World Research Data. Using a science diplomacy approach, NEWORLD@A aims to provide the first comprehensive historical survey on the shaping of the current world data exchange system. Through an original combination of quantitative and qualitative methods, the study will first map existing networking patterns of data centres distribution and circulation in order to reveal existing imbalances in the world distribution of research data centres. It will also identify the historical determinants for the shape of world data exchange networks through an investigation of relevant archival documents across the world discussing the relevant negotiations and decision-making processes. Critical to the study will be, in particular, an analysis of the role of the International Science Council's Committee on Data (or CODATA) - which has been since 1966 a major authority in the shaping of world data policies (see an interview on this in the CODATA website). They study will also focus on interactions between non-governmental and governmental transnational organizations under the aegis of ICS (ex-ICSU) and UNESCO; Western and Eastern blocs in the context of the Cold War science race; and Global North and South nations in the uses of research data for development purposes. The study shapes an international consortium comprising leading research centres in Britain, Czech Republic, Brazil, China and elsewhere.

My research on Science Diplomacy - Other projects to present

- Between 2018 and 2022 I have been the University of Manchester coordinator for the H2020 project InsSciDE (Inventing a Shared Science Diplomacy for Europe). This was one of the three Horizon 2020 flagship programs for the exploration of science diplomacy in a European dimension. I have contributed to this program through the study of environmental diplomacy and predictions. In particular through the study of nuclear winter (check here and here). 

- I have collaborated with the one of the UoM's flagship Newton Fund programmes, DARA Big Data, by supervising two MPhil projects on the impact of science diplomacy project in Africa. The two projects, now published, have charted its significance in shaping agricultural research and the comparative contribution of two leading countries, Kenya and South Africa, to international collaborative projects in radio-astronomy.

- I supervise PhD projects with a science diplomacy dimension funded through the North-West ESRC Doctoral Training Partnership, and reconstructing the history of organizations promoting international research programs such as the Scientific Committee on Antarctic Research and the British Council. I am also supervising a PhD project on China's space programme as a case of science diplomacy.

- Between 2017 and 2021 I was the principal investigator for a project on the history of science diplomacy in Brazil funded through the São Paulo Research Foundation. As a result of this project, an article discussing the history of atomic energy research in Brazil was published in 2021 on the journal Centaurus.

- My second monograph, published in 2018, reconstructs the history of NATO's initiatives to promote scientific research and environmental actions between the 1950s and 1980s. The project for this book was outlined in the context of the TEUS project (see below) especially in that I started research NATO's science as the archival documents examined displayed their importance for NATO's surveillance mission. However, the study of NATO's science programs was my first foray into the study of science diplomacy in that I also realized how important these programmes were for NATO diplomatic activities and how they functioned as a form of "backchannel" or "track II" diplomacy. I discuss these aspects both in the book as well as in one article showing how fundamentally NATO's science was diplomacy by other means.   

The Earth Under Surveillance (TEUS), 2009-2014

From 2009 to 2014 I was the Principal Investigator for a  five-year research program funded by the European Research Council (ERC) and titled TEUS - The Earth Under Surveillance (I am therefore enormously thankful to the ERC for offering me both a Starting Grant and an Advanced Grant in my research career). I have worked together with colleagues in Barcelona, Paris, and Strasbourg to reconstruct the ancestry of scientific studies on the earth and the environment, and especially how the Cold War warped research and funding trajectories because of the surveillance ambitions of geoscientific research (see website: http://teus.unistra.fr/). As result of this research the edited collection The Surveillance Imperative was published in 2014. My co-workers and I have also written a number of articles in academic journals and contributed to a special BJHS issue on transnational history of science, in 2012. 

The Pontecorvo Affair

My doctoral thesis discusses scientific migrations across Europe from the inter-war years. One of the individual cases that I studied in greater detail is that of the Italian scientist Bruno Pontecorvo. A refugee physicist from Italy, he worked in top secret atomic research during WW2 and moved to Britain in the late 1940s. He then defected to Soviet Union, which concerned British security authorities in the light of leaks of classified scientific information in connection with his mysterious departure. The Pontecorvo Affair was a game of revelations and deception in the dialogue between scientists, diplomats, intelligence officers, and the media. My 2012 book sheds new light on it. In 2007 the monograph Il Caso Pontecorvo was published by the editor Sironi in Italian. In the same year the documentary Le Campane del Cremlino was also produced by RAI, and the case has more recently been examined in Maksimovic. The Story of Bruno Pontecorvo.

Other projects

In 2006 I joined an interdisciplinary team to look at the interplay of geopolitics and geoscientific exploration in Antarctica (an overview has been published in in Nature Geoscience). I have also contributed to the launch of a pioneering BL project on the oral history of British science.  I have also analysed the problems associated with the management of intellectual property rights in nuclear research (the so-called atomic patents). 

Teaching

My undegraduate teaching activities are aligned to my research interests and University of Manchester strategic priorities for teaching. In particular, the modules that I teach offer an overview of current global challenges and what has been done, historically to tackle them. In particularm the HSTM/UCIL module Nuclear Age: Global Nuclear Threats from Hiroshima to Today helps students to familiarize with the history of nuclear weapons and the steps that have been undertaken towards nuclear disarmament. Combining international relations, political history, but also the history of science and culture, it allows students to understand how significant nuclear weapons and atomic energy more generally have been in defining recent history up to present days.

I have also taught and designed a variety of undergraduate modules, including Science and the Modern World and History of Climate Change (now Climate Change and Society) for which I received a teaching award in 2016.

I am also involved in postgraduate teaching in the context of the HSTM Taught Master where I teach a PG-tailored version of Nuclear Age and in the Science, Government and Public Policy unit, where I teach about science diplomacy and international relations in science as part of the Science Communication Master.

Aside from teaching I am involved in the administration of UG teaching programmes. I am the UG lead for the HSTM undergraduate portfolio which every year makes available a cohort of twelve highly successful units that are available as options to students from across the whole university (most of them also as UCIL units). I am also a programme (co-)director for Biology with Science and Society, which is a programme virtually unique in that it combines a biology degree with an orientation on science studies through the collaboration of the School of Biological Sciences with the Centre for the History of Science, Technology and Medicine. The programme welcomes highly motivated students who wish to combine the study of biology with mastering science communication techniques and exploring the social impacts of biological research. I am finally responsible for the SALC Flexible Honours programme with a HSTM minor component 

Biography

  • PhD, University of Manchester, 2000-2003. Thesis title: "Use, Refuse or Lock Them Up? A history of Italian Academic Refugees in Britain, 1930-1950".
  • MSc in History of Science, Technology and Medicine, University of Manchester, 1999-2000
  • Philosophy Degree (Diploma) at the Department of Philosophy and Epistemology, University of Rome "La Sapienza", 1992-1997

Expertise related to UN Sustainable Development Goals

In 2015, UN member states agreed to 17 global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure prosperity for all. This person’s work contributes towards the following SDG(s):

  • SDG 10 - Reduced Inequalities
  • SDG 13 - Climate Action
  • SDG 14 - Life Below Water
  • SDG 16 - Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions

Areas of expertise

  • D839 Post-war History, 1945 on
  • DG Italy
  • GC Oceanography
  • GE Environmental Sciences
  • HN Social history and conditions. Social problems. Social reform
  • JV Colonies and colonization. Emigration and immigration. International migration
  • QC Physics

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