Mary Jo Nye

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Mary Jo Nye
Mary Jo Nye October 10, 2013 Roy G. Neville Prize 2crop.jpg
Recipient of the 2013 Roy G. Neville Prize
Born (1944-12-05) December 5, 1944 (age 73)
Residence U.S.
Nationality United States
Alma mater Vanderbilt University, University of Wisconsin
Occupation American historian of science
Employer University of Oklahoma, Oregon State University
Awards Dexter Award, 1999; Sarton Medal, 2006; Roy G. Neville Prize, 2013

Mary Jo Nye (born December 5, 1944) is an American historian of science and Horning Professor in the Humanities emerita of the History Department at Oregon State University.[1][2] She is known for her work on the relationships between scientific discovery and social and political phenomena.

Early life and education[edit]

External video
Mary Jo Nye October 10, 2013 Roy G. Neville Prize crop.jpg
Mary Jo Nye, “Video: Session Chair, "Scientists and Textbooks”, Oregon State University

Nye was born December 5, 1944, to Joe Allen and Mildred Mann of Nashville, Tennessee. She began her undergraduate studies as a chemistry major at Vanderbilt University, but became interested in history of science after taking a class from Robert Siegfried.[3] In 1964 she left Vanderbilt to attend the University of Wisconsin in Madison, Wisconsin, where she completed her BA in Chemistry in 1965.[4]

She married Robert A. Nye, also a historian, on February 17, 1968. They traveled to France to do doctoral research in 1968: their trip coincided with revolutionary unrest and offered them opportunities to learn French cooking. Mary Jo Nye completed a Ph.D. in History of Science at the University of Wisconsin in 1970, advised by Erwin N. Hiebert, whom Nye credits for his egalitarian support of women students. At the time, students studying the 19th and 20th century were also a minority in the field. Nye's generation of scholars is credited with creating a shift that embraces international perspectives and examines the interactions of politics and science.[3]


Nye was awarded a National Science Foundation post-doc in the history of science in 1969.[3][4] In 1970 she began teaching part-time at the University of Oklahoma, later moving to a tenure-track position. She was appointed Assistant Professor in 1975, Associate Professor in 1978, served as Acting Chair of the History of Science department in 1981, and became a Full Professor in 1985.[4] In 1991 she was named George Lynn Cross Research Professor in the History of Science. She and her husband, also a faculty member, shared responsibility for caring for their daughter and frequently traveled to France for research. Their interests later broadened to include England and Germany, as Nye studied the British physicist and Nobel laureate P.M.S. Blackett.[3] In 1993, Nye was appointed chair of the History of Science Department at the University of Oklahoma.[4]

Mary Jo Nye was active in the History of Science Society (HSS), serving as vice-president in 1987 and succeeding Bill Coleman as president from 1988-1989 when he became ill.[3] She has also served as Second Vice-President of the Division of History of Science in the International Union of History and Philosophy of Science.[4] She has held a number of visiting research appointments at institutions including the University of Pittsburgh, Rutgers University, the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, Churchill College at the University of Cambridge, the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science in Berlin, and Harvard University.[4]

In 1994, Nye and her husband were co-appointed as Thomas Hart and Mary Jones Horning Professors of the Humanities and Professors of History at Oregon State University.[5] AT OSU she became interested in Linus Pauling, whose papers are held by the university, and whose career covers much of the 20th century.[3] She worked as well on Hungarian-born physical chemist and philosopher Michael Polanyi[6] Nye retired from Oregon State University in 2009.[4][7]

Research interests[edit]

  • The history of chemistry and physics since the eighteenth century in Western Europe, Great Britain and the United States
  • The social and cultural history of science, including laboratory science, university education, and the political activities of scientists
  • The philosophy of science, especially relations between theory and evidence
  • Studies of Michael Polanyi and P.M.S. Blackett

Awards and honors[edit]

Professor Nye was elected as a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1993,[8] a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in 1998,[4] and a Corresponding Member of the Académie Internationale d'Histoire des Sciences in 2005.[9] In 1999 she received the Dexter Award for outstanding achievement in the history of chemistry of the American Chemical Society.[4][10] She received the History of Science Society's George Sarton Medal for Lifetime Scholarly Achievement awarded in 2006.[3][11] In 2013 she received the second John and Martha Morris Award for Outstanding Achievement in the History of Modern Chemistry, from the Society for the History of Alchemy and Chemistry.[12] She also received the 2013 Roy G. Neville Prize in Bibliography or Biography from the Chemical Heritage Foundation for her book Michael Polanyi and His Generation: Origins of the Social Construction of Science.[13]

"Mary Jo’s work has brilliantly illuminated important areas of the history of modern European and American physics and chemistry... Her elegant writing is always a joy to read, her research as deep as it is broad and her historical arguments are judicious and convincing." Alan Rocke, 2006[11]

Publications (selections)[edit]

As author[edit]

  • Molecular reality ; A perspective on the scientific work of Jean Perrin, London [usw.]: MacDonald [usw.], 1972
  • Science in the Provinces: Scientific Communities and Provincial Leadership in France, 1860-1930, University of California Press, 1986, ISBN 0-520-05561-6
  • From chemical philosophy to theoretical chemistry : dynamics of matter and dynamics of disciplines, 1800 - 1950, Berkeley [u.a.] : Univ. of California Press, 1993
  • Before Big Science: The Pursuit of Modern Chemistry and Physics, 1800-1940, Harvard University Press, Reprint 1999, ISBN 0-674-06382-1
  • Was Linus Pauling a Revolutionary Chemist? (Award Address - Dexter Award) in: Bull. Hist. Chem. 25 (2000), 73-82.
  • Blackett. Physics, War, and Politics in the Twentieth Century, Harvard University Press, 2004 - ISBN 0-674-01548-7 - about the English physicist Patrick Maynard Stuart Blackett[14]

As editor[edit]

  • The invention of physical science : intersections of mathematics, theology and natural philosophy since the seventeenth century ; essays in honor of Erwin N. Hiebert, Dordrecht [u.a.] : Kluwer, 1992
  • The Cambridge History of Science, Vol. 5: The Modern Physical and Mathematical Sciences, Cambridge University Press, 2002, ISBN 0-521-57199-5

Personal life[edit]

Mary Jo Nye lives in Oregon with her husband, historian of sexuality Robert A. Nye.[5] They have one daughter, Lesley.[1]


  1. ^ a b "Mary Jo Nye (1944– )" (PDF). School of Chemical Sciences. University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign School of Chemical Sciences. 
  2. ^ Guerrini, Anita (2015). ""The Bonds of History": A Festschrift for Mary Jo Nye". History of Science Society Newsletter. Retrieved 30 April 2015. 
  3. ^ a b c d e f g Mayer, Michal (2007). "A Life in Mosaic: Mary Jo Nye wins Sarton Medal" (PDF). History of Science Society Newsletter. January: 12–13. Retrieved 1 May 2015. 
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i "Mary Jo Nye Papers, 1986-1997". Special Collections & Archives Research Center. Oregon State University Libraries. Retrieved 30 April 2015. 
  5. ^ a b Brandt, Dylan (October 7, 2005). "Book lecture brings sexuality to campus". The Daily Barometer. Retrieved 1 May 2015. 
  6. ^ Gordin, Michael D. (2012). "The Polanyi Puzzle". Chemical Heritage Magazine. 30 (2). Retrieved 1 May 2015. 
  7. ^ Luna, Taryn (June 4, 2008). "Honored Horning history professor to retire". The Daily Barometer. Retrieved 1 May 2015. 
  8. ^ "News Notes of Faculty and Staff". Discorsi. 2 (January). 1994. 
  9. ^ "Mary Jo Nye". Académie Internationale d'Histoire des Sciences. Retrieved 1 May 2015. 
  10. ^ "Dexter Award for Outstanding Achievement in the History of Chemistry". Division of the History of Chemistry. American Chemical Society. Retrieved 30 April 2015. 
  11. ^ a b "OSU Professor Awarded Highest Honor from History of Science Society". News & Research Communications. Oregon State University. November 6, 2006. Retrieved 1 May 2015. 
  12. ^ "2015 Morris Award: Call for Nominations". The British Society for the History of Science. Retrieved 1 May 2015. 
  13. ^ "Roy G. Neville Prize". Chemical Heritage Foundation. 
  14. ^ Ross, Greg. "Scientists' Nightstand: Mary Jo Nye". American Scientist. Retrieved 1 May 2015. 

External links[edit]