, Volume 53, Issue 1, pp 21–42 | Cite as

A Place for Materials Science: Laboratory Buildings and Interdisciplinary Research at the University of Pennsylvania

  • Hyungsub ChoiEmail author
  • Brit Shields


The Laboratory for Research on the Structure of Matter (LRSM), University of Pennsylvania, was built in 1965 as part of the Advanced Research Projects Agency's (ARPA) Interdisciplinary Laboratories (IDL) program intended to foster interdisciplinary research and training in materials science. The process that led to the construction of the four-story structure served as the focus of intense debates over the meaning and process of interdisciplinary research in universities. The location of the building, its size, internal design, and functionalities were all subject to heated negotiations among patrons, scientists, and university administrators, to find the proper place of interdisciplinary materials science on the University of Pennsylvania's campus. Building on the recent work on laboratory architecture, this paper argues that the negotiations and controversies over the LRSM building were concrete representations of the broader struggle over the appropriate place of interdisciplinary research and training within a university.


Materials science Laboratory for Research on the Structure of Matter University of Pennsylvania Interdisciplinary research Laboratory buildings Advanced Research Projects Agency 



The authors would like to thank Ruth Schwartz Cowan, W. Patrick McCray, Cyrus Mody, Matt Eisler, Jody Roberts, and Dawn Bonnell, as well as the anonymous reviewers for critical commentaries on earlier versions of this article. Choi’s work was supported by the National Science Foundation (NSF) under cooperative agreement #SES-0938099 to the Center for Nanotechnology in Society at the University of California, Santa Barbara, and Scholars Award No. 1127663 to the Chemical Heritage Foundation. Shields’ work was supported by the University of Pennsylvania’s Nano/Bio Interface Center through the NSF NSEC DMR08-32802.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Materials Science and EngineeringSeoul National UniversitySeoulKorea
  2. 2.Department of History and Sociology of ScienceUniversity of PennsylvaniaPhiladelphiaUSA

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