Professor November teaches courses in history of the life sciences and medicine, history of computing, and modern American history. He is particularly interested in how developments in information technology and the life sciences have shaped one another. His new book, Biomedical Computing: Digitizing Life in the United States (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2012), explores the intellectual and institutional dimensions of the computerization of biology and medicine. The book surveys not only the changes computers brought to the study of life, but also the changes the life sciences brought to the development of computing.
In preparation for my second book, a biography of computing pioneer Robert S. Ledley, I have been working with the National Biomedical Research Foundation and the National Library of Medicine to establish an archive for Ledley’s papers and material related to the NBRF, a non-profit organization he founded in 1960. Ledley is best known for the development of the full-body CT scanner and his work in the field of pattern recognition. He was also deeply involved in early studies of DNA and RNA as well as a national effort to introduce computer technology to biology and medicine. I have also been working with the National Institutes of Health to preserve the many computers and other electronic devices Ledley built over the course of his career.
I am also examining the role of the National Institutes of Health in promoting the development of computer technology in the 1960s. This builds on the research I conducted as a DeWitt Stetten, Jr. Memorial Fellow in the History of Biomedical Sciences and Technology [sponsored by NIH Center for Information Technology] during the 2007-2008 academic year. Since 2007 I have been investigating the NIH’s Advisory Committee on Computers in Research (ACCR) during its tenure as the primary sponsor, and arguably the primary shaper, of American biomedical computing in the early-to-mid 1960s. Generously supported by a US Senate trying to boost US science vis-à-vis the USSR, the ACCR fostered the development of several major biomedical computing centers (at MIT, UCLA, and Washington University, among others) as well as exemplary computer systems, most notably the Laboratory Instrument Computer (LINC), an important predecessor to the personal computer, and the Dendritic Algorithm (DENDRAL), an early expert system. Most recently I have expanded my research to include an examination of the common origins, both in terms of broad goals and experimental agendas, of biomedical computing and nanotechnology.
I am also an active participant in several University of South Carolina groups examining science and technology. These include the nanoSTS group; the Center for Bioethics, and the STEMCell discussion group.
Watch "A Lifetime of Biomedical Computing: A Conversation With Dr. Robert S. Ledley".