Techniques of the Listener: Sonocytology and Cellular Sounds - A Talk by Sophia Roosth

April 4, 2013, 6:00PM

20 Ames Street Building E15
Cambridge, MA 02139

Techniques of the Listener: Sonocytology and Cellular Sounds 

A Talk by Sophia Roosth, Assistant Professor in the History of Science, Harvard University

The act of delivering and receiving verbal and nonverbal messages and the literal and metaphorical figure of the listener are central to Amalia Pica’s work, and in conjunction with Pica’s exhibition the List is pleased to present a talk by Sophia Roosth, “Techniques of the Listener: Sonocytology and Cellular Sounds.”

Yeast cells vibrate approximately one thousand times per second, and most cells vibrate within the frequency — though not amplitude — range of human hearing. Roosth’s talk looks to sonocytology, a technique used in nanotechnology research, which uses a scanning probe microscope to record the vibrations of cell walls, amplifying those vibrations so that humans can hear them.

How are cellular vibrations converted into sounds that scientists can interpret as conveying meaningful information regarding the dynamism of cellular interiors? What conditions enable scientists to describe cells as actors capable of “speaking” or “screaming”? The technique of sonocytology Roosth describes produces an ambiguity between cells speaking and cells being spoken for. As such, it demonstrates how scientists listening to cells transform raw sound into signal.

Roosth’s research focuses on the twentieth and twenty-first century life sciences. Her first book manuscript examines how the life sciences are changing at a moment when researchers build new biological systems in order to investigate how biology works. In this work, Roosth asks what happens to “life” as a conceptual category when experimentation and fabrication converge. Roosth joined the Harvard Department of the History of Science in 2011. She previously worked as a postdoctoral fellow at the Pembroke Center for Teaching and Research on Women at Brown University. She received her doctorate in science studies from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 2010. Next year, she will be a fellow of the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study.

For more information, contact:

Mark Linga
[617] 452-3586

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