Paul Bunge Prize 2023 for Robert W. Smith

Paul Bunge Prize 2023 for Robert W. Smith

Author: ChemistryViews

Robert W. Smith, University of Alberta, Edmonton, Canada, has received the Paul Bunge Prize 2023. The award was presented on May 31, 2023, at the conference “Writing the History of Scientific Instruments” in Munich, Germany.

The Paul Bunge Prize of the Hans R. Jenemann Foundation is awarded jointly by the German Chemical Society (GDCh) and the German Bunsen Society for Physical Chemistry (DBG). It honors outstanding work on the history of scientific instruments and is endowed with EUR 7,500. Smith was honored for lifetime achievements, including his inspirational contributions on space telescopes.



Robert W. Smith’s best-known work “The Space Telescope: A Study of NASA, Science, Technology, and Politics” explains the history of the Hubble Space Telescope in the context of “Big Science”. The two-billion-dollar research project delivered practically unusable images after being deployed in space due to construction errors. Smith analyzes how “Big Science” processes, particularly government funding processes for large-scale projects, contributed to these failures. He reveals the amazingly complex interactions between science, government, and industry, and describes the wide range of personalities and forces—scientific, technical, political, social, institutional, and economic—that played a role in the history of the telescope.

Smith has investigated the history of scientific instruments since the beginning of his research career. He is particularly interested in how these instruments have shaped scientific operations and how this, in turn, shapes the instruments. In addition to his research, he shares his knowledge both as part of his teaching activities and in popular science lectures. His work fascinates academic colleagues, museum professionals, government agencies, and the interested public alike, helping to expand audiences and enhance the visibility of the history of scientific instruments.



Robert W. Smith studied physics at Queen Mary College, University of London, UK, and mathematics at the University of Cambridge, UK. In 1979, he received his Ph.D. from Cambridge University for work on the history and philosophy of science. He served as an Assistant Keeper in the Department of Physical Sciences of the National Galleries and Museums on Merseyside, UK, from 1978 to 1982, as a Historian in the Department of Space History at the Smithsonian Institution, Washington D.C., USA, from 1982 to 1996, and as an Adjunct Professor in the Department of the History of Science, Technology, and Medicine at Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, MD, USA, from 1986 to 1998.

Since 1998, Smith has served as a Professor in the Department of History and Classics at the University of Alberta, Edmonton, Canada. He also was Chair of the Department of History and Classics from 1998 to 2003 and Director of the Science, Technology, and Society Program at the University of Alberta from 2007 to 2010. In addition to other honors, Smith was named Lindberg Chair of Aerospace History at the Smithsonian Institute, Walter Hines Page Fellow of the National Humanities Center, McCalla Professor and Killam Annual Professor at the University of Alberta, and George Sarton Memorial Lecturer in the History and Philosophy of Science.

Selected Publications


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