Ruth Schwartz Cowan likes to say that her career has been devoted to “going beyond the Wow! of science and technology.”
She is an author and an educator: an historian of science, technology, and medicine. She learned, early on, that every scientific discovery and every technological change has had its supporters as well as its detractors—the folks who said “Wow! This is terrific!” as well as the folks who said “Wow! This is awful!”—and she has been trying to understand and explain that phenomenon ever since. Put another way, this means that she has devoted her career as a scholar and educator to understanding the social meaning of scientific, technological, and medical change.
Currently the Janice and Julian Bers Professor of the History and Sociology of Science at the University of Pennsylvania, she has also taught at Stony Brook University (formerly SUNY–Stony Brook) and at CalTech and Princeton. She has also been a successful academic administrator, as Director of Women’s Studies and Chair of the Honors College at Stony Brook and as Chair of her department at Penn. She has also chaired numerous academic administrative panels, committees, and commissions.
Ruth has wide-ranging interests. She has written, lectured, and consulted about topics as diverse as the impact of washing machines on the daily lives of housewives, the impact of genetic testing on the reproductive plans of young couples, and the ironic anti-feminism of women engineers. She lectures frequently, both to general and specialist audiences. She is also active as a consultant to documentary filmmakers, museum exhibit creators, and foundations with interests in science, technology, and medicine.