Dr. Marcus B. Carrier

c:o/re Junior Fellow 09/23−08/24

photo by Jana Hambitzer

Marcus B. Carrier is a historian of science. After having studied history and chemistry (B.A., 2013) as well as History, Philosophy and Sociology of Science (M.A., 2016), he received his PhD from Bielefeld University in 2022. His research so far has focused on the history of chemistry, the history of expertise, and the history of experimental practices in science. For his dissertation, he worked on the history of forensic toxicology and chemical expertise in poisoning trials in 19th-century Germany and France. Since 2022, he has been working on the history of computer simulations and the relationship between experiment and simulation in chemistry since the 1970s. In 2022–2023, he was funded as a postdoc by the Bielefeld Young Researchers’ Fund. In 2022, he was also a short-term fellow at the Science History Institute in Philadelphia, USA.


Chemistry without Substance: The History and Epistemic Status of Computational Chemistry

Among other things, the advent of the digital computer in the 1940s and especially its commercialization in the 1950s entailed new possibilities for doing research in the sciences, most notably computer simulations of complex systems. Solutions to models and equations, which were either fundamentally unsolvable analytically or far too complicated for any human to solve, could now be calculated or at least approximated by the computer. Since the 1950s, computer simulations have also been used in the field of quantum chemistry. While these early simulations ran on big and expensive mainframe computers, the 1980s brought about the personal computer in today’s sense. This meant not only more computing power but also more computing time due to the availability and increase in the number of computers.

The main research goals of this project are twofold. First, on a historical level, it aims to trace the formation and development of computational chemistry, especially in the U.S. and Western Europe. Second, on an epistemological level, the main question that will be leading this project is how substance, or rather, the lack of material substances, was dealt with by computational chemists and how this was communicated to other chemists. A special focus during my stay at Aachen will be on the use of visualizations in computer simulations. Kostas Gavroglu and Ana Simões have suggested that it was the lack of visualizability that made it difficult to initially integrate quantum chemistry into the research culture of chemistry, which focuses mainly on molecule structures. Visualizations in computer simulations could then have acted as a bridge between theoretical quantum chemistry and established research practices in chemistry.

Publications (selection)

Carrier, Marcus B. 2023. Der Wert von Methoden: Forensische Toxikologie des 19. Jahrhunderts im deutsch-französischen Vergleich. Wiesbaden: Springer VS. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-658-41633-1.

Carrier, Marcus B. 2022. “Presenting Chemical Practice in Court: Forensic Toxicology in Nineteenth-Century German States.” In: Evidence in Action between Science and Society, edited by Sarah Ehlers and Stefan Esselborn, 1st ed., 42–59. New York: Routledge. https://doi.org/10.4324/9781003188612-4.

Carrier, Marcus B. 2021. The Making of Evident Expertise: Transforming Chemical Analytical Methods into Judicial Evidence. In NTM Journal of the History of Science, Technology and Medicine 29(3): 261–84. https://doi.org/10.1007/s00048-021-00306-7.

Carrier, Marcus B. 2019. “The Value(s) of Methods in the Courtroom: Values for Method Selection in Forensic Toxicology in Germany in the Second Half of the Nineteenth Century.” In: Global Forensic Cultures. Making Fact and Justice in the Modern Era, edited by Ian A. Burney and Christopher Hamlin, 37–59. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.