Dr Paola Castaño
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 open science practices and plant space biology in NASA's GeneLab.
In 2021 I completed a Newton International Fellowship at Cardiff University in 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 Lives 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 Bogotá. My 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
"What is an Institutionalized Community of Data Users? NASA's GeneLab and the Analysis Working Groups." International Society for the History, Philosophy and Social Studies of Biology. Toronto, July 2023.
"Defining 'Space' through Data Sharing: Plant Space Experiments and NASA's GeneLab." With Sabina Leonelli. Philosophy in Biology and Medicine Conference. University of Cambridge, May 2023.
"Scaling Up Space Biology: The Concept of Reference Experiment". With Dana Tulodziecki. Large-Scale Experiments Conference. International Conference of the Research Unit Epistemology of the LHC. Karlsuhe, December 2022.
"Data Processing as Sharing Practice: Making Plant Space Biology at NASA's GeneLab". Society for Philosophy of Science in Practice. Ghent. July 2022.
“The Pyrotechnics of Promise: The Justification of the. International Space Station as a Laboratory.”
Society for Social Studies of Science Annual Meeting. Virtual., August 2020.
“Biomedical Research on the International Space Station: Knowledge Accumulation and Cross-Boundary Expertise.” With Mark Shelhamer. Society for Social Studies of Science Annual Meeting. New Orleans, September 2019.
‘Cogito in Space:’ Art, Neuroscience and Radio Astronomy.” RE:SOUND 8th International Conference on the Histories of Media Arts. Aalborg, August 2019.
“Beyond the ‘Spectacle of Discovery:’ Communicating Scientific Research on the International Space Station.” Science in Public Conference. Manchester Metropolitan University, July 2019.
“Space Gardening and ‘The Future’ of Space Exploration Field Notes from the International Space Station.” Interdisciplinary Workshop The Moon as a ‘Contact Zone’ to Other Worlds. University of Manchester, June 2019.
“Meanings of Science in the Valuation of Research on the International Space Station.” 18th Annual STS Conference: Critical Issues in Science, Technology and Society Studies. Graz, May 2019.
“Sociology of Science in Low Earth Orbit: Assessing the "Scientific Value" of the International Space Station.” British Sociological Association Annual Conference. Glasgow. April 2019.
“Intersecting Publics and the ‘Scientific Value’ of the International Space Station.” Science in Public Conference. Cardiff University, December 2018.
“The Ethics of Biomedical Research in Low Earth Orbit: The ‘Twins Study’ on the International Space Station.” Society for Social Studies of Science Annual Meeting. Sydney, August 2018.
“Off the Earth, for the Earth and Beyond: The Scientific Promises of the International Space Station.”University College London, Institute of Advanced Studies, September 2017.
"The Cosmos is the Ultimate Laboratory: Particle Physics Research on the International Space Station.” Association of American Geographers Annual Conference. Chicago, April 2015.
Recent Invited Talks
"New Insights about Plant Space Experiments Through Data Sharing: A Philosophical/Sociological Perspective". NASA GeneLab, Plants Analysis Working Group. Online, May 2023.
"Experiments, Communities,and Datasets: Sociological Notes about Plant Biology on the International Space Station". One O'Clock Space Lecture. University College London Space Domain, March 2022.
"The International Space Station as a Platform for Plant Biology: Institutionalising a Research Community". Egenis Seminar. Egenis Centre for the Study of the Life Sciences. University of Exeter, February 2022.
"The International Space Station: A Sociological Perspective.” UK Space Agency, June 2020.
“Multivocality by Design: A Sociological Perspective on the International Space Station.” Royal Observatory, Edinburgh. Visions of Inclusive Outer Space: Systems and Architectures Workshop, June 2019.
“A Laboratory with Many Bookkeepers: Science on the International Space Station.” NASA Headquarters, Washington, DC.. July 2017.
“Remote Ethnography: Sociology of Science in Low Earth Orbit.” Università di Torino. Inaugural Session Qualitative Research Lab, April 2017.
“Scientific Research on the International Space Station.” Smithsonian Institution, National Air and Space Museum, Washington, DC, June 2016.
“Sociology and Dark Matter.” National Astronomical Observatory, Bogota, June 2015.
“GeneLab, Open Science, and the Idea of Community-Designed Reference Experiments: Transforming Research in Space Biology.” With Dana Tulodziecki. American Society of Gravitational and Space Research Annual Conference. Houston, November 2022.
“Why Open Science Needs Philosophy”. With Sabina Leonelli, Paola Castaño, Rose Trappes, Joyce Acquah, Emma Cavazzoni, Nathan Sheehan and Fotis Tsouroukis. Philosophy of Science Association Annual Conference. Pittsburg, 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.