Navigating Dimensions across Materials and History: Scale as a Lens to Understand Dynamic and Cumulative Sociotechnical Relationships

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Ellan F. Spero
Christine Ortiz


Through the lens of scale, this paper combines knowledge and perspectives from the history of technology and materials science and engineering to examine the materiality of the ubiquitous technological systems that are so often hidden in the everyday. The simultaneously exceptional and prosaic case of materials underpinning water filtration is examined in a 19th century manufacturing city in the United States. An analysis related to materials structure-property-processing-performance correlations is integrated with historical approaches to technological landscapes, the co-construction of use and value, and narratives of progress. This study provides insights into the dynamic social and material relationships that change across scales, as well as into mechanisms and cumulative influences of material constituents in larger sociotechnical systems. This contribution is incorporated within a framework for socially-directed science and technology, and its implementation in new and existing higher education institutions is discussed.


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Spero, E. F., & Ortiz, C. . (2021). Navigating Dimensions across Materials and History: Scale as a Lens to Understand Dynamic and Cumulative Sociotechnical Relationships. Diseña, (18), Article.1.
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Author Biographies

Ellan F. Spero, Massachusetts Institute of Technology; Station1

Bachelor of Science and Master of Science in Fiber Science and Apparel Design, Cornell University. Master of Arts in Museum Studies and Textile Conservation, Fashion Institute of Technology. Doctor of Philosophy in History, Anthropology, Science, Technology and Society, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). Spero is an Ins­tructor at MIT in the Department of Materials Science and Engineering, and Co-Founder and Professor of the Practice at Station1, a nonprofit higher educational institution focused on socially-directed science and technology. Research areas of focus include narratives of progress, systems of production, academic-industrial ecosystems, and so­cio-material infrastructures. Spero is the author of ‘The Tua Valley in Transition, Symbol and Technological Landscapeʼ (with H. S. Pereira; CEM Cultura, Espaço e Memória / Culture, Space & Memory, N° 7), ‘A Garden City for Pro­gress and Harmony: Singapore at the Osaka 1970 Expoʼ (in S.G. Knowles and A. Molella eds.; World’s Fairs in the Era of the Cold War; University of Pittsburgh Press, 2019), and ‘An Entrepreneurial Opportunity in Process: Creating an Industrial Fellowship in Early Twentieth Century Americaʼ (Management and Organizational History, Vol. 12, N° 3).

Christine Ortiz, Massachusetts Institute of Technology; Station1

Bachelor of Science in Mate­rials Science and Engineering, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. Masters of Science and Doctor of Philosophy in Materials Science and Engineering, Cornell University. Ortiz is the Morris Cohen Professor of Materials Science and Engineering at the MIT Department of Materials Science and Engineering, and foun­der of Station1, a nonprofit higher education institution focused on socially-directed scien­ce and technology. Research areas of focus in­clude multiscale materials design and mecha­nics, socio-resilient approaches to materials development, biological materials, materials and nanotechnologies, materials modeling and simulation, high-resolution microscopy of materials, biological and bio-inspired ma­terials. Ortiz is author of over 195 scholarly publications including, ‘Bioinspired Structural Materialsʼ (with M. C. Boyce, Science, Vol. 319, N° 5866), ‘Multifunctionality of Chiton Biomineralized Armor with an Integrated Visual Systemʼ (with L. Li, et al., Science, Vol. 350, N° 6263), and ‘Hierarchical Structural Design for Fracture Resistance in the Shell of the Pteropod Clio pyramidataʼ (with L. Li, and J. C. Weaver, Nature Communications, 6, 6216).


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