Article ID: CBB451209861

Ant Mazes and Astronomy: Harlow Shapley's Entomological Experiments at Mount Wilson Observatory and Pasadena, California (2020)


This article explores the entomological research of American astronomer Harlow Shapley (1885–1972). The focus is 1914–1921, the time that Shapley worked as a staff astronomer at Mount Wilson Observatory in the San Gabriel Mountains of California. The years 1919–1920 receive particular attention because they were the most active period for Shapley's ant experiments. During these years, Shapley undertook two primary programmes of study in ant physiology, each centred on a specific species native to Southern California—the velvety tree ant and the California harvester ant. Shapley's ant research was dependent upon the scientific environment of Mount Wilson Observatory because of several benefits and opportunities that the location offered him. The section ‘Observatory ants’ discusses the details of Shapley's research programme as well as the advantages given him by his location. The subsequent section, ‘Indoor ants’, discusses a change in environment for Shapley's ant experiments and how that change, from an outdoor to an indoor setting, changed the scope and nature of his research. This section also discusses the influences that Shapley's work came to have in the disciplines of entomology, ecology, general physiology, and behavioural science. The final section, ‘Living and non-living?’, discusses the impacts that Shapley's ant research came to have on his own later work concerning cosmic evolution and interdisciplinary co-operation among the sciences. In conclusion, we are left with evidence suggesting that Shapley's work in entomology was highly location-dependent while also possessing far-reaching consequences.

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Authors & Contributors
DeVorkin, David H.
Osterbrock, Donald E.
Palmeri, JoAnn
Sleigh, Charlotte
Bartolucci, Jorge
Belkora, Leila
Journal for the History of Astronomy
History and Philosophy of the Life Sciences
History of Science
Notes and Records: The Royal Society Journal of the History of Science
Physics in Perspective
Saber y Tiempo: Revista de Historia de la Ciencia
Johns Hopkins University Press
University of Oklahoma
Cambridge University Press
Institute of Physics Publishing
Reaktion Books
University of California, Santa Barbara
Public understanding of science
Shapley, Harlow
Hale, George Ellery
Hubble, Edwin Powell
Bailey, Solon Irving
Bowen, Ira Sprague
Curtis, Heber Doust
Time Periods
20th century
20th century, early
19th century
18th century
20th century, late
United States
Pasadena (California)
California (U.S.)
Mount Wilson Observatory
California Institute of Technology
Carnegie Institution of Washington
Griffith Observatory

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