Emma Frow

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University of Edinburgh
Frow, Emma

Emma Frow is a Lecturer in Science & Technology Studies at the University of Edinburgh, and Associate Director of the ESRC Genomics Policy & Research Forum. She is a sociologist of science, and one of her core research interests relates to how standards are developed and used as tools of governance in contemporary biosciences.

Emma is a Principal Investigator for the European Commission ST-FLOW project on standardization in synthetic biology, and a researcher in the UK Flowers Consortium concerned with developing infrastructure for synthetic biology. Emma was also a coordinator of the UK Synthetic Biology Standards Network from 2008-2011, and has been a Human Practices advisor and judge for the iGEM competition since 2008. Originally trained as a bioscientist, she has a PhD in biochemistry from the University of Cambridge, and worked at Nature before moving up to Edinburgh in 2006.

Wed July 10 | 2:00 - 4:00 | Parallel Session
ABSTRACT: The social life of standards

Standardization is a key principle being brought from engineering into the field of synthetic biology. Within the synthetic biology community there are several ongoing attempts to develop and implement standards, according to a range of different typologies. In this talk I want to take a step back and focus on some key characteristics of standards, and the roles they play in our daily lives as researchers, policymakers, and citizens. Drawing on examples from within and outside synthetic biology, I will show how standards are fundamentally both technical and social instruments that bridge the worlds of things and people. As well as being important technical instruments for achieving reliability, predictability and control in engineered systems, standards are also associated with social and political institutions of power, accountability, credibility, and trust. Indeed, standardization has become a key form of governance in modern societies, and its implications reach far beyond laboratory practice. During their development, standards require a theory or imagination of how they will be used; in their implementation, standards are necessarily always partial, vulnerable to resistance, and open to revision. These characteristics have implications for how the synthetic biology community chooses to approach practices of standardization – what kinds of values might we strive to build into standards for synthetic biology (technical standards, safety standards, ownership standards, and so on) that could help to promote ‘biotechnology in the public interest’? And whose expertise should be involved to develop standards that are effective and equitable?