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School of Social and Political Science: Staff profiles


Emma Frow

Emma Frow
Dr Emma Frow
Honorary Fellow
Science Technology and Innovation Studies School of Social and Political Science University of Edinburgh
Chisholm House High School Yards Edinburgh UK EH1 1LZ
Research Interests
Science & technology studies, Sociology of Science, Engineering studies, synthetic biology, expertise and interdisciplinarity, Values, Representation in scientific practice


I joined the University of Edinburgh as a research fellow at the ESRC Genomics Policy & Research Forum in 2006. After spending the 2011-2012 academic year as a Fellow in the Program on Science, Technology & Society at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government, I returned to STIS as a Lecturer in 2012. My research focuses on contemporary life sciences, with a particular interest in synthetic biology.

My academic background is in natural sciences. I have an undergraduate degree in Neuroscience from Cambridge University. I stayed there to pursue a PhD in the Department of Medicine, in a laboratory focused on signalling pathways involved in chronic inflammatory disorders. After finishing my PhD, I was keen to explore options away from the lab bench, and spent two years as a subeditor for the scientific journal Nature, in London. I discovered Science and Technology Studies (STS) when I moved to the Genomics Forum in Edinburgh, and completed the MSc programme in STS at Edinburgh in 2009.


Research Interests

Science & technology studies, Sociology of Science, Engineering studies, synthetic biology, expertise and interdisciplinarity, Values, Representation in scientific practice

Research Overview

I am currently interested in the areas of:

  • standard-setting and classification in contemporary biosciences
  • interdisciplinary collaborations and methods of engagement
  • governance of biotechnologies and the bio-based economy
  • objectivity and representation in scientific practice
  • knowledge production and politics in scientific publishing

Current Projects

Standardization in synthetic biology (European Commission FP7 project), 2012-2016

Engineering Life (PI: Jane Calvert, funded by European Research Council), 2014-2018

Completed Projects

Other Research Activities

Selected recent talks

‘Taking care of synthetic biology,’ Science and Democracy Network meeting, Vienna,   30 June-2 July 2014

‘Disciplining the social sciences in synthetic biology,’ Medicine and Environment: What Kind of Interdisciplinary Collaborations for Synthetic Biology? Paris, 23-24 June 2014

‘Transatlantic governance of synthetic biology,’ UK-Brazil workshop on Responsible Innovation, Sao Paolo, 19-21 March 2014

'Shaping matters of (non-)concern in synthetic biology,' Issues and Non-issues in Science and Medicine Symposium, University of Exeter, 27-28 September 2013

'The social life of standards,' SB6.0: The Sixth International Meeting on Synthetic Biology, Imperial College London, 9-11 July 2013

‘Social and technical dimensions of standards development in synthetic biology,’ Autumn Symposium of the Centre for Systems & Synthetic Biology, Imperial College London, 14-15 November 2012

‘Synthetic biology and the order of things,’ Annual Meeting of the Society for the Social Studies of Science, Copenhagen, 17-21 October 2012

'A sustainable future for synthetic biology?', Cambridge BioDesign Forum, Cambridge, 25-26 September 2012


Undergraduate Teaching

Science & Society 1b: Nature and Environment

This course considers the ways that science and technology shape the relationship between humans and the environment. We will examine a number of topical historical and contemporary cases and in the process reflect on the role played by science and technology in how societies understand nature and environment. 

Postgraduate Teaching

Social Dimensions of Systems and Synthetic Biology

Other Teaching Activities

I also teach on an number of other undergraduate and postgraduate courses, and have served as the Programme Director for the MSc in Science and Technology in Society.

PhD Supervision

PhD Topics

I would be keen to supervise students with interests in the politics of knowledge in scientific practice (particularly in bioengineering, life sciences and environmental sciences); STS studies of standardization initiatives; or representation in scientific practice.

Find out more about the programmes that I am involved with:

PhD in Science and Technology Studies; MSc (R) Science and Technology Studies

Current PhD Students

At present, I supervise two students:

  • Meritxell Ramirez-Olle: 'Climategate' as a problem for the sociology of scientific knowledge (2010-2014)
  • Natalia Nino Machado: Growing Right. WHO Child Growth Standards in Colombia (2012-2016)


Macnaghten, P. et al (2014) ‘Responsible innovation across borders: tensions, paradoxes and possibilities’, Journal of Responsible Innovation, 1(2): 191-199.

Frow, E.K. (2014) 'In images we trust? Representation and objectivity in the digital age,' in Representation in Scientific Practice Revisited, eds C. Coopmans, J. Vertesi, M. Lynch & S. Woolgar. Cambridge: MIT Press, pp. 249-268.

Calvert, J. & Frow, E.K. (2013) ‘Social dimensions of microbial synthetic biology,’ in Methods in Microbiology, Vol. 40, eds C. Harwood & A. Wipat. Burlington: Academic Press, pp. 69-86.

Frow, E.K. (2013) Making big promises come true? Articulating and realizing value in synthetic biologyBioSocieties 8: 432-448.

Davies, G., Frow, E. & Leonelli, S. (2013) Bigger, faster, better? Rhetorics and practices of large-scale research in contemporary bioscienceBioSocieties 8: 386-396.

Mackenzie, A., Waterton, C., Ellis, R., Frow, E.K., McNally, R., Busch, L. & Wynne, B. (2013) Classifying, constructing, and identifying life: Standards as transformations of 'the biological'Science, Technology, & Human Values 38: 701-722.

Frow, E. & Calvert, J. (2013) Opening up the future(s) of synthetic biologyFutures 48: 32-43.

Frow, E. & Calvert, J. (2013) 'Can simple biological systems be built from standardized interchangeable parts?' Negotiating biology and engineering in a synthetic biology competitionEngineering Studies 5(1): 42-58.

Schyfter, P., Frow, E. & Calvert, J. (2013) Synthetic biology: Making biology into an engineering disciplineEngineering Studies Guest Editorial 5(1): 1-5.

Frow, E.K. (2012) Drawing a line: Setting guidelines for digital image processing in scientific journal articlesSocial Studies of Science 42(3): 369-392.

Wiek, A., Guston, D., Frow, E. & Calvert, J. (2012) Sustainability and anticipatory governance in synthetic biologyInternational Journal of Social Ecology and Sustainable Development 3(2): 25-38.

Frow, E. & Yearley, S. (2010) People, Policy and Plant Genomics. In Principles and Practices of Plant Genomics - Volume 3: Advanced Genomics, edited by C. Kole and A. Abbott. New Hampshire: Science Publishers, Inc.

Frow, E.K. (2009) Making BioBricks: The dynamics of standardization and community formation in synthetic biology. MSc Dissertation, The University of Edinburgh [available upon request]

Frow, E.K., Ingram, D., Powell, W., Steer, D., Vogel, J. & Yearley, S. (2009) The politics of plants. Food Security  1(1):17-23.

Frow, E.K. (2009) A Forum for 'Doing Society and Genomics'EMBO Reports 10(4):318-321.

Frow, E.K., Reckless, J. & Grainger, D.J. (2004) Tools for anti-inflammatory drug design: in vitro models of leukocyte migration. Medicinal Research Reviews 24(3): 276–298.

Grainger, D.J. & Frow, E.K. (2000) Thrombospondin 1 does not activate transforming growth factor beta-1 in a chemically defined system or in smooth-muscle-cell cultures. Biochemical Journal 350: 291–298.