of Zoology and History
University of Florida
The Scientist magazine recently ranked the University of Florida
among the best places for scientists to work in academia, it wasn't
a surprise to Betty Smocovitis, a professor in the departments of
zoology and history in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. "I
didn't need to read that survey to know that biologists at UF were
some of the happiest in the country. I knew that from about my second
semester here, way back in 1989!"
studies the history, philosophy and social study of the 20th-century
biological sciences, especially evolutionary biology,
systematics, ecology and genetics. She also explores the history
of the botanical sciences in America and says her parents are responsible
for sparking her interest in history and science. "I was born
in Egypt, and my parents are from Greece. I was always aware of the
past as a result of growing up between those two countries with a
richly developed history, or the 'Pyramid to Parthenon Experience'
as I like to call it."
father trained in astronomy and physics at the University of Athens
and became a professor of general science at a school in
Egypt. "He had a laboratory where he taught, and somewhere in
between the skeleton he literally kept in the closet, the plastic
heart on his desk, and the metal balls demonstrating kinetic energy
that he loved to talk about, I developed an interest in science.
He also told me stories about the Great Library at Alexandria, which
fascinated me even as a small child. So, I feel like I've always
had an awareness of both history and science."
until graduate school that one could merge the two fields and have
a career studying the history of science, Smocovitis enrolled
at Cornell University in the Program for the History and Philosophy
of Science and Technology. Much of her research concentrates on gaining
a better understanding of the evolutionary synthesis, which saw the
establishment of the modern theory of evolution. To that end, her
first book, "Unifying Biology: The Evolutionary Synthesis and
Evolutionary Biology" explores that topic. She currently is
completing a book-length project that is a biography of the botanical
architect of evolutionary synthesis G. Ledyard Stebbins.
"Discovering the field of the history of science has allowed
me to integrate a broad range of my intellectual interests as well
as my personal predilections," explains Smocovitis. "By
concentrating on the science of evolution, I think I've been able
to bring all my interests together rather nicely since it happens
to be historical science with wide-ranging humanistic elements."
Smocovitis earned her bachelor's degree in biology from the University
of Western Ontario and her Ph.D. in ecology and evolutionary biology
from Cornell in 1988. She has received UF and CLAS Teaching Awards
and is a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of
Science. She also is a member of the Society for the Study of Evolution,
the Botanical Society of America and the History of Science Society,
which has its executive office headquartered at the University of
Florida. Smocovitis has received research grants from the National
Science Foundation, the American Philosophical Society and the National
Endowment for the Humanities.