Nicolas Rasmussen

Nicolas "Nic" Rasmussen FAHA (born 1962) is a historian of modern life sciences, and a professor in the School of Humanities and Languages at the University of New South Wales.[4]

Nicolas Rasmussen
Born(1962-02-00)February 1962
Paris, France
CitizenshipUnited States, Australia
EducationBA (1983), MA (1986), M.Phil. (1987), PhD, (1992), MPH (2007)
Alma mater
Scientific career
FieldsHistory and Philosophy of Science, History of Medicine
  • The Genealogy of Inheritance: 19th Century Questions and Theories of Generation (1987)
  • Studies on the Determination of Organ Pattern and Organ Identity in Flower Development (1992)
Doctoral advisorPaul B. Green[1]
Other academic advisorsNick Jardine, Tim Lenoir,[2] Lucia B. Rothman-Denes,[3] William C. Wimsatt
InfluencesPierre Bourdieu, John Dewey

With major interests in the history of amphetamines, the history of drug abuse, and the history of clinical trials, he has higher degrees in history and philosophy of science, developmental biology, and public health.

Early lifeEdit

Born in Paris in 1962 of American parents – computer scientist Norman L. Rasmussen (1928—2003), later director of IBM's Cambridge Scientific Center, and an important contributor to the development of time-sharing operating systems,[5] and Laura Sootin Rasmussen (1933—), later an organiser and officer of the National Organization for Women in New England[6] – he attended the Roxbury Latin School, near Boston, in Massachusetts.


Having worked in biology research labs since his early teens, Rasmussen's undergraduate exposure to art history and theory spurred an interest in history and philosophy of science; and, as a consequence, he enrolled in a PhD program in Philosophy at the University of Chicago to pursue this field. He worked there with William Wimsatt for two years; and, after taking a master's degree, he went on to Cambridge University to study history of biology with Nick Jardine in the M.Phil. program in History and Philosophy of Science.

Then, in 1987 he took up a PhD scholarship in Biological Sciences at Stanford University; and, while pursuing doctoral research in plant developmental biology under Paul B. Green, he also continued working in history of science with Tim Lenoir.

In 2007, to allow him to become more involved in health policy scholarship, he took a master's degree in Public Health at University of Sydney Medical School.


After postdoctoral training in history of science at Stanford and Harvard – and short term teaching positions in the field at Princeton and UCLA – he moved to a teaching position in history and philosophy of science at Sydney University (1994—1997) and, then, to the University of New South Wales in Sydney, where he is now a Professor.

In 2019 he was elected a fellow of the Australian Academy of the Humanities.[7]


His research has dealt with the role of instrumentation in shaping scientific knowledge; the history of biotechnology, molecular biology and its cultural and intellectual history; the history of drug abuse and pharmaceuticals in the United States since 1900; and the influence of industry sponsorship on biomedical research.

He is best known for his focus on the ways in which experimental methods and technology can shape research disciplines, sociologically and intellectually, and on the related role of patronage in shaping scientific fields in the mid-20th century USA.[8] He has been principal investigator on several National Science Foundation (US) and Australian Research Council grants.


His first book, Picture Control: The Electron Microscope and the Transformation of Biology in America, 1940–1960 (1998), won both the Paul Bunge Prize for 1999, and the Forum for the History of Science in America's Book Prize for 2000.[9]

His second book, On Speed: The Many Lives of Amphetamine (2008), is a widely cited history of the amphetamines in medicine and American culture.[10]

His third book, Gene Jockeys: Life Science and the Rise of Biotech Enterprise (2014), was shortlisted in the "basis of medicine category" of the 2015 British Medical Association's Medical Book Awards, and was highly commended by the judging panel.[11]


External media
  Carla Nappi: Interview with Nicolas Rasmussen, author of Gene Jockeys: Life Science and the Rise of Biotech Enterprise, from New Books Network (30 January 2015).[12]
  Nicolas Rasmussen (2008): History of Amphetamines: (1) How Amphetamines Got Started[13]
  Nicolas Rasmussen (2008): History of Amphetamines: (2) Amphetamines At War[14]
  Nicolas Rasmussen (2008): History of Amphetamines: (3) Amphetamines in America[15]
  Nicolas Rasmussen (2008): History of Amphetamines: (4) American Amphetamine Addiction[16]
  Nicolas Rasmussen (2008): History of Amphetamines: (5) How to find More Information on the Military's Use of Amphetamine[17]
  1. ^ Paul B. Green (1931—1998) was an eminent scientist in the field of plant morphogenesis (see Salisbury, D.F., "Plant biologist Paul Green dies at age 67", News release: Stanford University News Service, 25 August 1998.)
  2. ^ Timothy Lenoir (1948—), of Stanford University, is known for his work in history of computer gaming, especially his involvement in the How They Got Game Project.
  3. ^ Best known for pioneering a novel system to study how bacterial viruses take over the molecular processes of their host, she has been on the University of Chicago's faculty since 1974; see University of Chicago: Department of Molecular Genetics and Cell Biology: Faculty & Research: Lucia B. Rothman-Denes, PhD. Archived 25 March 2018 at the Wayback Machine
  4. ^ University of New South Wales: Faculty of Arts And Social Sciences: School of Humanities and Languages: People: Professor Nicolas Rasmussen.
  5. ^ "RIP, IBM Cambridge Scientific Center, 1992; and Founder Norman Rasmussen, 2003", Smart Phones: Technology and Business Apps, (31 July 2011).
  6. ^ She was also the sometime editor and publisher of the monthly women's rights newsletter called The New Broom (see Smith College Bulletin (1954–1955), p.55; ’54: Smith Alumnae Quarterly, (Fall 1954) p.63; ’54: Smith Alumnae Quarterly, (August 1957), p.262; ’54: Smith Alumnae Quarterly, (February 1972), p.53; '54: Smith Alumnae Quarterly, (November 1973) p.50; and '54: Smith Alumnae Quarterly, (November 1976) p.51)
  7. ^ "Fellows". Australian Academy of the Humanities. Retrieved 21 November 2019.
  8. ^ Whilst Rasmussen's approach is sometimes identified with historical materialism, in his works, Rasmussen stresses that its basis is in the pragmatism of John Dewey.
  9. ^ See Reeds, K., Forum for the History of Science in America Prize, (10 April 2001) Archived 5 March 2016 at the Wayback Machine; the Forum for the History of Science in America, founded in 1986, was formally acknowledged as an "Interest Group" of the History of Science Society in 1988 (see "About the FHSA", AmericanScience.)
  10. ^ For example, Zaitichik, A., "The Speed of Hypocrisy: How America Got Hooked on Legal Meth", Motherboard, (30 June 2014).: "Anyone seeking to understand the treachery behind today's medical-industrial ADHD complex should begin with Nicolas Rasmussen's essential history, On Speed: The Many Lives of Amphetamine. Rasmussen, a science historian at the University of South Wales, tells a story that ought to inform every media treatment of the subject, but never does."
  11. ^ British Medical Association 2015 Book Awards: List of Medical Book Award Winners by Category (3 September 2015). Archived 7 June 2015 at the Wayback Machine
  12. ^ Retrieved 21 July 2015.
  13. ^ "History of Amphetamines: How Amphetamines Got Started". Nicolas Rasmussen. 2008. Archived from the original on 22 July 2015. Retrieved 21 July 2015.
  14. ^ "History of Amphetamines: Amphetamines At War". Nicolas Rasmussen. 2008. Retrieved 21 July 2015.
  15. ^ "History of Amphetamines: Amphetamines in America". Nicolas Rasmussen. 2008. Retrieved 21 July 2015.
  16. ^ "History of Amphetamines: American Amphetamine Addiction". Nicolas Rasmussen. 2008. Retrieved 21 July 2015.
  17. ^ "History of Amphetamines: How to find More Information on the Military's Use of Amphetamine". Nicolas Rasmussen. 2008. Retrieved 21 July 2015.