Alex Wellerstein
Center for History of Physics, American Institute of Physics
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Alex Wellerstein

Center for History of Physics
American Institute of Physics
One Physics Ellipse
College Park, MD 20740


2011-2014 American Institute of Physics
Associate Historian
Center for History of Physics

2010-2011 Harvard Kennedy School
Research Fellow
Project on Managing the Atom and International Security Program
Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs

Spring 2011 Harvard University
Department of the History of Science


2004–2010 Harvard University
Ph.D., History of Science

Dissertation: Knowledge and the Bomb: Nuclear Secrecy in the United States, 1939-2008.
Filed and accepted October 2010.
Advisors: Peter Galison, Sheila Jasanoff, Mario Biagioli, David Kaiser.

General examination fields. Fall 2006.
History of the modern physical sciences (Peter Galison)
Science, politics, and STS (Sheila Jasanoff)
Modern biology and society (Sarah Jansen)
Modern United States history (Ernest May)

1999–2002University of California, Berkeley
B.A., High Honors, History (emphasis in History of Science).

Bachelor's thesis: Compulsory Sterilization in California, 1909-1950.
Advisor: Richard von Mayrhauser. Spring 2002.

Honors thesis: Berkeley and the Bomb: Discourse, Nuclear Weapons, and the University of California.
Advisor: Cathryn Carson. Fall 2002.


Alex Wellerstein, photo by Sage Ross, 2013. (CC BY-SA 2.0)

I am an Associate Historian (a postdoctoral position) at the Center for the History of Physics at the American Institute of Physics. I was recently a postdoctoral fellow at the Managing the Atom Project (MTA) and the International Security Program at the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Harvard Kennedy School of Government, and I maintain an affiliation with the MTA program as a Research Associate. I also have a long association with the Program on Science, Technology, and Society at the Harvard Kennedy School.

My general research interests are in the history of Cold War technology, government secrecy, and in the history of heredity in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. A more detailed description of my research projects, talks, and publications can be found here.

My dissertation, Knowledge and the bomb: Nuclear secrecy in the United States, 1939-2008, was a history of attempts to control nuclear technology through the control of knowledge. My work looks at the overall dynamics of secrecy policies as they unfolded over the course of the latter half of the twentieth century and at the beginning of the twenty-first. For more information, click the link. I completed my dissertation as of October 2010. My final year of writing and research was assisted by a Dissertation Completion Fellowship from the Andrew W. Mellon/American Council of Learned Societies Early Career Fellowship Program. I am currently in the late stages of turning the manuscript into a book, under contract with the University of Chicago Press.

I've been blogging my research at Restricted Data: The Nuclear Secrecy Blog since November 2011. My work there has been featured numerous times on NPR, The Atlantic Magazine's website, and many other resources. My nuclear effects simulator applications, the NUKEMAP and NUKEMAP3D have been immensely popular and the subject of stories on NPR, TIME magazine's website, various international publications and radio shows, and a brief cameo on The Daily Show.

For my work on the patenting policies of the Manhattan Project, I was a guest on NPR in March 2008 (story) and I was interviewed on the PBS show "History Detectives" in June 2009 (video).


At Harvard I was at different times a teaching fellow (section leader), a course coordinator ("head teaching fellow"), and an advisor to four undergraduate senior theses. At MIT I have been a teaching assistant (mostly grading). I am a three-time recepient of the Harvard University Certificate of Distinction in Teaching from the Derek Bok Center for Teaching and Learning at Harvard for my work as a teaching fellow. I have given a number of guest undergraduate lectures at Harvard and MIT. Along with general history of science tutorials, my teaching experience has been in the history of the physical sciences and the history of biology.

In Spring 2011, I was a Lecturer in the History of Science, at Harvard University, teaching an introductory "Tutorial" course for sophomores (covering the "big ideas" in the discipline of science studies), and an entirely new course on "Science in the Cold War." The syllabi for these courses are posted here. For my work as a Lecturer at Harvard, I received a Harvard University Certificate for Teaching Excellence from the Bok Center.

I will be teaching a course on "Science and the Cold War" in the History Department at Georgetown University in the Spring 2014 semester.

Other work

I have worked, both inside and outside of the university setting, as a web developer, graphic designer, and database programmer, for well over a decade. As a graduate student I have been a research assistant for a half-dozen professors at three different universities (Harvard, UC Berkeley, and MIT). For the academic year of 2007-2008, I was the Edward Teller Graduate Fellow in Science and Security Studies for the Office of History and Heritage Resources at the U.S. Department of Energy, working to help develop their historical resources on the web. I was also a researcher for the documentary film Secrecy by Peter Galison and Robb Moss, which debuted at the Sundance Film Festival in 2008. I have been for many years associated with the work of the Program on Science, Technology & Society at the Harvard Kennedy School.

Hobbies, etc.

I also have a rather large postcard collection of California state mental hospitals that accounts for a significant percentage of my server traffic. I started collecting these some time back as part of my work on the history of forced sterilization in California in the early-twentieth century.


Alex Wellerstein (left) and Ellen Bales (right), reflected in the window of the Collection of Scientific Instruments, Harvard University.

I am originally from Stockton, California, though before moving to Massachusetts I lived in the San Francisco Bay Area for a number of years. I am married to Ellen Bales, who is an upper-school history teacher at The Potomac School in McLean, Virginia. Ellen received her Ph.D. in the History of Science at UC Berkeley in 2009, and has taught at Berkeley, MIT, and Harvard. Ellen's dissertation work was on the history of risk assessment in the twentieth century, looking at radon as a health threat in the contexts of both early Cold War uranium mining and the late- old War suburban household. Ellen has also worked as a researcher at the Harvard Kennedy School on a project relating to the use of scientific evidence in courtrooms. Ellen and I have a little dog named Lyndon, and we currently live in Washington, D.C.

Before retiring, my father was a public defender in California, and my mother worked at the California Department of Justice.

This site

The flashing images used at the top of this page and on the home page have all been taken from various research projects of mine. For more information about the design of this site itself, click here.

Last updated November 2013.

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