STEM at Yale: Up Down Up

Have you ever wondered why so many buildings on campus are named Sterling? Or why Silliman is…well, Silliman? A new book written to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Yale Science and Engineering Association (YSEA) answers these questions and more through its exploration of the history of science and engineering at Yale.

In STEM at Yale: Up Down Up, author William Glover chronicles 200 years of Yale STEM, sharing stories about the relationship of Yale with the general scientific community and about individuals who brought Yale science departments to the forefront of their respective fields. History is balanced with personal anecdotes, giving voice to professors who experienced the ups and downs of Yale engineering. Glover provides readers with a sweeping perspective of Yale’s role in the global scientific community, making this book as entertaining as it is important.

The book is divided into four parts. The first — an introduction of science education at Yale — describes Benjamin Silliman’s contributions to the University’s fledgling science department in the 1800s. Silliman was appointed Yale’s first professor of chemistry, and during his time here he gave tremendous support to the Yale Medical Institution, American Journal of Science, and Yale Art Gallery. Also described in this opening section are other people whose names should sound familiar to many Yalies: Timothy Dwight IV, president of Yale during Silliman’s time, and President Woolsey, who created the Yale Scientific School (later to become the Sheffield Scientific School).

Part two of the book describes the development of Yale’s largely separate school of sciences. Willard Gibbs, the namesake of Gibbs free energy, represented Yale’s flourishing in the engineering and sciences, as he became well-known as a genius theoretical physicist. Glover goes on to describe Yale’s place in the wars of the early 20th century, and he writes about the merger of Sheffield and Yale in part three. Alumni associations such as the Yale Engineering Association (later YSEA) formed during this time as alumni were increasingly appreciated.

In part four, Glover navigates the post-World War II years at Yale. He references narratives by current engineering professors Werner P. Wolf and Robert B. Gordon, who speak about the controversial 1961 restructuring of Yale’s engineering school, which led to a sharp decline in faculty and students. Still, Glover ends on an optimistic note: The School of Engineering, with championship from President Levin and other administrators, has once again seen a rise in quality in recent years.

Many will undoubtedly find something of interest to them within the pages of STEM at Yale. The book tells the history of Yale from a scientific perspective, with minute detail on a few of the most important contributors to Yale’s science and engineering departments over the past 200 years. Many of the names in this book will ring a bell: Chittenden, Woolsey, Ezra Stiles, Peabody. What is perhaps most fascinating is learning how each of these people left a unique legacy.

Although STEM at Yale is heavy on the history, the detailed biographies and descriptions of global wars only leave you with a greater understanding of the University’s overall legacy in engineering and the sciences. It is truly a worthwhile read for anyone curious about science, Yale, history, or the intersection of all three.