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Photo of Dr Paola Castaño

Dr Paola Castaño

Research Fellow

Byrne House SF10

I am a sociologist of knowledge and science, and my work focuses on space science. My research also engages with philosophy of science, epistemology of the social sciences, political sociology, and valuation studies. I am a research fellow in the Philosophy of Open Science for Diverse Research Environments project where I lead a case study about NASA's GeneLab. 


In 2021 I completed a Newton International Fellowship at Cardiff University during which I finished a sociological study of scientific research on the International Space Station (ISS), one of the world’s most diverse and complex research platforms. My project combined a detailed examination of NASA experiments (in plant biology, biomedicine, and particle astrophysics) with assessments of value about the station (in Congressional program reviews, scientific advisory panels, and media reports). The book resulting from this research is Beyond the Lab: The Social Life of Experiments on the International Space Station and it is in process of completion. 


I have a PhD in sociology from the University of Chicago, and undergraduate degrees in History and Political Science from Universidad de Los Andes in BogotáMy ISS project, which marked a departure from the topics I researched during my doctorate, was funded and supported with postdoctoral positions at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum in Washington DC, the Free University of Berlin, Waseda University in Tokyo, and the British Academy.

External impact and engagement

Selected Conference Presentations

Large-Scale Experiments Conference. International Conference of the Research Unit Epistemology of the LHC. Karlsuhe. With Dana Tulodziecki. "Scaling Up Space Biology: The Concept of Reference Experiment". December 2022.

Society for Philosophy of Science in Practice. Ghent. "Data Processing as Sharing Practice: Making Plant Space Biology at NASA's GeneLab". July 2022.

Society for Social Studies of Science Annual Meeting. Virtual. “The Pyrotechnics of Promise: The Justification of the. International Space Station as a Laboratory.” August 2020.

Society for Social Studies of Science Annual Meeting. New Orleans. With Mark Shelhamer “Biomedical Research on the International Space Station: Knowledge Accumulation and Cross-Boundary Expertise.” September 2019.

RE:SOUND 8th International Conference on the Histories of Media Arts. Aalborg. “‘Cogito in Space:’ Art, Neuroscience and Radio Astronomy.” August 2019.

Science in Public Conference. Manchester Metropolitan University. “Beyond the ‘Spectacle of Discovery:’ Communicating Scientific Research on the International Space Station.” July 2019.

The University of Manchester. Interdisciplinary Workshop The Moon as a ‘Contact Zone’ to Other Worlds. “Space Gardening and ‘The Future’ of Space Exploration Field Notes from the International Space Station.” June 2019.

18th Annual STS Conference: Critical Issues in Science, Technology and Society Studies. Graz. “Meanings of Science in the Valuation of Research on the International Space Station.” May 2019.

British Sociological Association Annual Conference. Glasgow. “Sociology of Science in Low Earth Orbit: Assessing the "Scientific Value" of the International Space Station.” April 2019.

Science in Public Conference. Cardiff University. “Intersecting Publics and the ‘Scientific Value’ of the International Space Station.” December 2018.

Society for Social Studies of Science Annual Meeting. Sydney. “The Ethics of Biomedical Research in Low Earth Orbit: The ‘Twins Study’ on the International Space Station.” August 2018.

University College London, Institute of Advanced Studies. “Off the Earth, for the Earth and Beyond: The Scientific Promises of the International Space Station.” September 2017.

Association of American Geographers Annual Conference. Chicago. “The Cosmos is the Ultimate Laboratory: Particle Physics Research on the International Space Station.” April 2015.

The University of Chicago. Conference Georg Simmel: Life, Self, Culture, Society. “The Victim as Social Type and the Social Form of Reparation.” November 2011.

American Sociological Association Annual Meeting. Junior Theorists Symposium. “The Moral Authority of Suffering: Expert Knowledge and the Constitution of Victimhood.” August 2011.

Harvard University. Mellon Graduate Student Conference Objects of Knowledge, Objects of Exchange: Contours of (Inter)disciplinarity. “Violence and its Victims as Objects of Knowledge: The Role of Social Scientists in the National Commission of Reparation and Reconciliation in Colombia.” April 2009.

University of Frankfurt, Institut für Sozialforschung. The Future of Critical Theory Conference. “Critical Theory and the Epistemology of Violence.” March 2009.

Recent Invited Talks

One O'Clock Space Lecture. University College London Space Domain. "Experiments, Communities,and Datasets: Sociological Notes about Plant Biology on the International Space Station". March 2022.

Egenis Seminar. Egenis Centre for the Study of the Life Sciences. University of Exeter. The International Space Station as a Platform for Plant Biology: Institutionalising a Research Community". February 2022.

UK Space Agency. “The International Space Station: A Sociological Perspective.” June 2020.

Royal Observatory, Edinburgh. Visions of Inclusive Outer Space: Systems and Architectures Workshop.

“Multivocality by Design: A Sociological Perspective on the International Space Station.” June 2019.

NASA Headquarters, Washington, DC. “A Laboratory with Many Bookkeepers: Science on the International Space Station.” July 2017.

Università di Torino. Inaugural Session Qualitative Research Lab. “Remote Ethnography: Sociology of Science in Low Earth Orbit.” April 2017.

Smithsonian Institution, National Air and Space Museum, Washington, DC. “Scientific Research on the International Space Station.” June 2016.

National Astronomical Observatory, Bogota. “Sociology and Dark Matter.” June 2015.

Conference Posters

American Society of Gravitational and Space Research Annual Conference, Houston. “GeneLab, Open Science, and the Idea of Community-Designed Reference Experiments: Transforming Research in Space Biology.” Co-autored with Dana Tulodziecki.

Philosophy of Science Association Annual Conference, Pittsburg. “Why Open Science Needs Philosophy”. Co-authored with Sabina Leonelli, Paola Castaño, Rose Trappes, Joyce Acquah, Emma Cavazzoni, Nathan Sheehan and Fotis Tsouroukis. November 2022.

Recent Blog Posts, Interviews, and Media Appearances 

The Sociological Review Blog. With Philip Brooker and Effie Le Moignan “Living and Working in Space: Expanding the Human Factors Framework.” May 2021. 

Filling Space Blog. Interview “What relevance does sociology have for humanity’s engagement with space?” December 2020. 

Tiempo de Ciencia. Episode 31. Interview. “Lo que hemos aprendido de vivir en el espacio.” November 2020.

The Wow! Signal Podcast. “Among the Space People with Paola Castaño.” March 2020.

Blu Radio. Interview. “La Socióloga de la Baja Órbita Terrestre.” January 2019.

El Espectador. Reportage. “Diario de Campo entre Astronautas.” June 2018. 

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