On September 22, Professor Hasok Chang was invited to give a seminar at the School of Humanities and Social Science Building (N4) at 5:30 p.m. As the first in a series of Science and Technology Policy (STP) Colloquium seminars scheduled this semester, the seminar by Professor Chang was titled “Voltaic batteries and technoscience in the 19th century” and was attended by about 40 professors, researchers, and students.
Professor Chang is the Hans Rausing Professor at the Department of History and Philosophy of Science at the University of Cambridge and has previously served as President of the British Society for the History of Science.
Introducing himself as a philosopher of science, Professor Chang began the seminar with a seemingly easy question of understanding how the voltaic cell works. It is nowadays a widely accepted rhetoric — in academia and education — that the Italian physicist and chemist Alessandro Volta invented the first working battery, setting the foundation for today’s battery technology. In a society where batteries are close to omnipresent, it is oftentimes taken for granted that scientists and laypeople understand how batteries work. However, it was Professor Chang’s explanation that there is no simple and clearly understandable narrative on the workings of modern- day battery and that the ones that he was able to research were inconsistent with how the early-day voltaic batteries functioned. Thus, Professor Chang deemed it necessary to take on an intellectual pursuit of reconciling existing narratives about 19th-century battery technology. More importantly, he mentioned that many of today’s everyday technology are overlooked and that their working mechanism is automatically and mistakenly believed to be “understood”, just because everyone uses it.
Towards the latter half of the seminar, Professor Chang described existing studies on technoscience, followed by a sketch of his own work on the somewhat misunderstood term. According to the professor, “technoscience” is most often misused in the Korean context as some form of a combination/collaboration of science and technology, but he shortly made a strong case against such a misuse with references to his ongoing research to more carefully define the term for a more clarified philosophical treatment of science.