Niki Vermeulen's profile

Dr Niki Vermeulen


Senior Lecturer - History/Sociology of Science


Science Technology and Innovation Studies

E-Mail Telephone

+44(0)131 650 6396


Attic Chisholm House

High School Yards

Edinburgh, UK


Niki Vermeulen specialises in science and innovation policy and the organisation of research, with an emphasis on scientific collaboration in the life sciences.

She holds a PhD in Science and Technology Studies from Maastricht University, The Netherlands, was a Marie Curie research fellow in the Science and Technology Studies Unit at the University of York, lecturer/researcher in the Department of the Social Studies of Science, University of Vienna, Austria, and Wellcome Trust research fellow in the Centre for the History of Science, Technology and Medicine of the University of Manchester.

Niki is a visiting researcher at the Centre for Science and Technology Studies (CWTS) of Leiden University. In the past she has been a visiting scholar at the Centre for Society and Life Sciences of the Radboud University in Nijmegen, the Netherlands, the University of Madison-Wisconsin, USA, and the Institut für Kulturwissenschaft, Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, as well as the Centre for Interdisciplinary Health Research of the University of Augsburg, both in Germany.

Niki is a member of the Society for the Social Studies of Science (4S), the European Association for the Study of Science and Technology (EASST), and the Royal Society of Edinburgh's Young Academy of Scotland (YAS).

Next to her academic positions, she has experience as a policy advisor and consultant in science and innovation policy, working for Technopolis Group, the Executive Board of Maastricht University, the Netherlands Scientific Council for Government Policy (WRR), and the Scientific Council of the Royal Netherlands Embassy in Washington DC, USA. She is currently a member of the ESRC/Innovate UK 'Innovation Caucus'.

Research Interests

Science & technology studies History of science and medicine Social Organisation of Knowledge Science policy Innovation Life Sciences

Research Overview

I study the ways in which science is practised and organised, specialising in scientific collaboration. I investigate the entanglement of epistemic and social transformations, analysing new ways of doing research as well as the political and institutional structures in which the research is performed. Thereby I am working to integrate scientometrics research into qualitative research approaches (together with CWTS, Leiden University), while I have also developed a particular interest in the architecture of collaboration, investigating the spaces in which people are working together.

Currently, I am exploring the architecture of collaboration in various contexts, including the Francis Crick Institute, the Edinburgh Future Institute, and Institutes of Advanced Studies. I am investigating the history, transformation and present functioning of these institutes, and how ways of working together interact with the build environment and (urban) landscapes. Special attention is given to the material embedding of interaction inside buildings and the permeability of the walls, e.g. openness to publics. Edinburgh is functioning as a playground to develop various approaches to the architecture of collaboration, connecting my work on Curious Edinburgh to new developments as part of Data Driven Innovation, working with colleagues Ellen Stewart (Usher) and Ruth Honeybone (LSHA) on transformations of the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh, and with Marion Maisonobe (CNRS) and Fumi Kitagawa (EBS) on what we have called CITISCIENCE. In addition, I am a member of Writing Urban Places, which explores narrative methods to develop human understanding of communities, their society, and their situatedness.

During the past decade I have also been involved in the development of the concept of bio-objects, co-founding a network of young researchers which culminated in the European COST action ‘Bio-objects and their Boundaries: Governing Matters at the Intersection of Society, Politics, and Science’ (2010-2014), and which is continuing exchange in various ways. I have recently employed this new approach to investigate the making of bio-printed organs in collaboration with Gill Haddow and scientists Will Shu and Alan Faulkner-Jones.

My research into scientific collaboration is embedded in broader knowledge of developments in science and innovation policy. Research subjects in this area include the changing roles of universities; innovative clusters; the integration of ICT in research; projectification of science; evaluation of research; and careers of (young) researchers.

Current Projects

Curious Edinburgh is a website and mobile phone app which tells stories behind the cities many historic buildings and places. Originally developed to make large-scale undergraduate teaching more interactive and ‘bring the classroom into the city’, we started with tours showcasing the importance of Edinburgh's scientific and medical heritage in an innovative way.  The project adds a spatial dimension to the history of science by linking ideas, inventions and scientist to physical places in the city of Edinburgh. Thereby it allows scholars to connect their work to specific places that develop through time, and it invites novel historical and sociological analysis of the interaction between the scientific process, its materiality and geography. As the format allows to tell a variety of stories about the city, we now also cover tours on Edinburgh’s international connections and its vibrant local communities, paying attention to diversity, equality and civic action. Content is sourced from a wide variety of research projects across the University of Edinburgh and community archives, bringing diverse knowledge on Edinburgh together in one space, while making it accessible for students, staff as well as Edinburgh's citizens and visitors.

Current tours include:

Curious Edinburgh won the Tam Dalyell Prize for Excellence in Engaging the Public with Science (2018). See for acknowledgments of many individuals and organisations who contributed to this project our webpage.

Completed Projects

Following the life of a research institute: a biography of the Francis Crick (Wellcome Trust seed grant). Given the prominence of the £700 Million, 93000 m2 Francis Crick Institute, its (inter)national uniqueness, and the availability of British scholars analysing knowledge creation and translation, it seems timely to study this experiment in the organisation of biomedical science as it unfolds. Unsurprisingly, first media analyses are debating the Crick, with proponents seeing its 'bigness' as progress while opponents fear uprooting of current practice. Both positions are unnuanced and not evidence-based, as academic analysis shows not one ‘right’ way to organise science with collaboration being content and context dependent. Consequently, the influence of research institutes on the integrative production of knowledge can still be further explored. This project studies the birth of the Crick Institute and its new research strategy – discovery without boundaries. Key goals are: a) mapping the (spatial) design and initial functioning of the Crick; b) exploring the ways in which it provides new opportunities for interdisciplinary knowledge creation; c) design a longitudinal and reflexive study of a biomedical institute. The project contributes to advancement of knowledge on the functioning of research institutes, while the magnitude of societal investment and its importance for human health adds urgency to this opportunity.

The emergence of systems biology (Wellcome Trust research fellowship). As a Wellcome research fellow I have been working on the emergence of systems biology as a new field, shedding light on the recent history of the biosciences, and the ways in which different disciplines become reconfigured. Special attention is given to different local and national patterns of emergence, fashions in science policy, and the shaping of international collaboration. The study into the intellectual and social history of systems biology will help us draft the history of new biology and its relation to research policies, funding structures, university transformation, etc. in a way which can inform policy discussions and public understanding of contemporary science. In addition, the interaction between actors and social scientists will be analysed, showing (and improving) the reflexiveness of these developments.

Other Research Activities

Media coverage

2017/18: Several announcements on the award of the Tam Dalyell prize for Curious Edinburgh, and the accompanying lecture featured on websites and in journals. 

Bosgraaf, M. (2018). Hoogteverschillen zorgen voor geweldige uitzichten en doorkijkjes in De Volksrant, weekendbijlage.

Barr, P. (2017). Profiled for the Edinburgh Royal Society Magazine Science Scotland on biodiversity research.

Lewis, T. (2017) Could 3D printing solve the organ shortage? Observer/Guardian/Irish times

Royal Society Edinburgh (2017) Biodiversity: focus on Scotland. Science Scotland, 21.

Janssen, R. (2015). ‘Edinburgh versus Maastricht’. Observant, January 12.

Armas Foster, I. (2013). Collecting Big Data in Big OceansDatanami.

Pain, E. (2012). ‘Preliminary results of Euroscience survey’. Science Careers Blog.

Dirtel, T. (2011). ‘EU-Netzwerk COST: Neue Lebensformen im Fokus’. Uni:view.

Cressey, D. (2010). ‘Out of the blue’, Nature, 467, 514-515.

Pennisi, E. (2010). ‘Taxonomists propose counting all of Earth’s species’ Science Insider

Guidance and Feedback Hours

Please contact me per email to make an appointment

Undergraduate Teaching

After my arrival in Edinburgh in 2014, I have taken over the UG History of Science course from John Henry (2014-2016), while also developing the Responsible Researcher course. In addition, I am lecturing on Investigating Science in Society (semester 1) and Science, Nature and Environment (semester 2).

Postgraduate Teaching

I am currently convening the PG course Social Dimensions of Systems and Synthetic Biology (semester 2), while also supervising the final thesis of students from MSc SaTiS.

Other Teaching Activities

I have previously taught in the STS Master programme of the Department of Social Studies of Science (University of Vienna), the History of Science, Technology and Medicine programme (University of Manchester), and the Arts and Sciences programme, the European Studies programme and the European Society, Science and Technology (ESST) Master programme of the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences (Maastricht University).

PhD Topics

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

*Matjaz Vidmar 'UK/Scottish Space Sector and Innovation' (with Alessandro Rosiello & Robin Williams)

*Rosalind Attenborough 'Scientific openness: a new epistemic virtue?' (with James Mittra)

*Rodrigo Liscovsky Barrera 'Collaborate or perish: a multi-level social network analysis of scientific internationalisation in Latin America using a combination of methods in STS' (with Tod Van Gunten & Alfredo Yegros, CWTS)

*Fiona Coyle 'Mitigating Modification: Understanding the Societal and Ethical Implications of the Regulation of New and Emerging Biomedical Technologies in the UK Context 2006-2018' (with Gill Haddow)

*Laura Volkmer 'Transferring Scientific Objects: unpacking the intellectual ownership of scientific apparatus transferred from universities to museums' (with Dominic Berry, LSE, and National Museum of Scotland)

*Kate Bowell 'Science on display: the historical relationships between exhibit label texts, scientific objects, and technologies at National Museums Scotland' (with Lawrence Dritsas and National Museum of Scotland)

Hackett, E., Leahey, E., Parker, J., Rafols, I., Hampton, S., Corte, U., Drake, J., Penders, B., Sheble, L., Vermeulen, N. & T. Vision (2019). Do Synthesis Center Synthesize? A semantic analysis of diversity and performance. bioRxiv, 518605

Tamminen, S. & N. Vermeulen (2019). Bio-objects: new conjugations of the living. Sociologias 21 (50): 156-179.

Vermeulen, N. (2018). ‘The choreography of a new research field: Aggregation, circulation and oscillation'. Environment and Planning A: 50(8): 1764-1784. 

Vermeulen, N. & W. Bijker (2018). Ways of Knowing and Doing STS: Niki Vermeulen Talks with Wiebe Bijker. Engaging Science, Technology, and Society 4, 352-365.

Vermeulen, N., Haddow, G., Seymour, T., Faulkner-Jones, A. and W. Shu (2017). ‘3D Bioprint Me: A Socio-Ethical View of Biofabrication Journal of Medical Ethics, 43: 618-624.

Hackett, E., Parker, J., Vermeulen, N. & B. Penders (2016). ‘The Social and Epistemic organisation of Scientific Work’. In Handbook for Science and Technology Studies, Volume 4, Cambridge: MIT Press, pp. 733-764.

Vermeulen, N. (2016). ‘Big Biology; supersizing science during the emergence of the 21st century’ In special edition on Collaboration and competition of NTM Journal of the History of Science, Technology and Medicine, 24: 195-223.

Vermeulen, N., Tamminen, S. & B. Bock von Wulfingen (2016). Bio-objects meet Multispecies Ethnography, Workshop at MIT Anthropology, 30 Oct 2015, EASST Review, 35(1) March 2016.

Vermeulen, Niki (2016). “Plant Elicitors as Bio-Objects.” Social Epistemology Review and Reply Collective 5, no. 8: 1-4.

Millerand, F., Ellison, K., Goldstein, D., Hackett, E., Reinhardt, C., Wyatt, S., Shrum, W., Harthorn, B., Smith-Doerr, L., Hutchinson, A., Barton, M., Vermeulen, N., Allen, C., MacCord, K., Maienschein, J., Rynasiewicz, M., Wellerstein, A., Vann, K., Shilton, K., Cruse, P., Bowker, G., Kohn, D., Parker, J., Fortun, K., Altintas, I., Collins, P., Ribes, D. & M. Laublichler (2016).  Thinking about Data Management Planning, Arizona State University, School of Life Sciences, Center for Biology and Society.

Good, B.*, Vermeulen, N.*, Tiefenthaler, B., & E. Arnold, (2015) ‘Counting quality? The case of the Czech Evaluation Methodology.’ Research Evaluation, 24 (2): 91-105. (* joint first authorship).

Vermeulen, N. (2015). ‘From Virus to Vaccine: projectification of science in the VIRGO consortium’. In Penders, B., Vermeulen, N. & J.N. Parker. Collaboration across health sciences and care. London: Routledge.

Penders, B., Vermeulen, N. & J.N. Parker (Eds.). (2015). Collaboration across health sciences and careLondon: Routledge.

Vermeulen, N. & M. Meyer (2014). ‘Crossing Borders’ D'Lëtzebuerger Land, October 24.

Vermeulen, N & M. Bain (2014). ‘Little Cell, Big Science’. Issues in Science and Technology, Summer: 38-46. (See for an illustrated version the Think Write Publish project website).

Bain, M. & N. Vermeulen, (2014). ‘Little Cell, Big Science’ Creative Nonfiction52: 59-68.

Vermeulen, N., Parker, J.N. & B. Penders (2013). ‘Understanding life together: A brief history of collaboration in biology’. Endeavour, 37 (3), 162-171.

Vermeulen, N. (2013). ‘The Census of Marine Life; marine biology as big science’. PLOS 1, 8(1): e54284.

Swierstra, T, Vermeulen, N., Braeckman, J. & R. van Driel (2013). ‘Re-thinking the life sciences’. EMBO reports, 14, 310 - 314.

Vermeulen, N. (2013). 'Reflections on scientific collaboration'. In Popovic, L., Vidakovic‡, M., & D. Kostic (Eds.). Resources of Danubian Region: The possibility of cooperation  and utilization. Belgrade: Humboldt-Club Serbien.

Tamminen, S. & N. Vermeulen (2012). ‘Bio-objects and generative relations’. Croatian Medical Journal, 53(2), 198-200.

Vermeulen, N., Tamminen, S. & A. Webster (Eds). (2012). Bio-objects: Life in the 21st Century. London: Routledge.

Vermeulen, N. (2012). ‘Growing a cell in silico; On how the creation of a bio-object transforms the organisation of science’. In Vermeulen, N., S. Tamminen & A. Webster (Eds.). Bio-objects: Life in the 21st Century. London: Routledge.

Wheeler, et al. (2012). ‘Mapping the biosphere: exploring species to understand the origin, organization and sustainability of biodiversity’. Systematics and Biodiversity, 10(1), 1-20.

Ohler, F., Radauer, A., Vermeulen, N., Ionita, M., Rotaru, F., Toncu, A. C., Pislaru, D. & M. Horvat (2012). Mid-Term Evaluation of the National Strategy and the National RD&I Plan in Romania 2007-2013. Vienna: Technopolis/Bucharest: FM Management Consultancy/GEA Strategy & Consultancy.

Arnold, E., Good, B., Ohler, F., Tiefenthaler, B. & N. Vermeulen (2011). Institutional Funding and Research Evaluation in the Czech Republic and abroadBrighton/Vienna: Technopolis.

Parker, J. N., Vermeulen, N. & B. Penders. (2011). ‘Admin Burden is Part of the Job’. Nature, 476 (7358).

Felt, U., Vermeulen, N, Tempelmaier, B & K. Perkovits (2011). Ökologie im Wandel. Epistemische und institutionelle Transformation der  Ökologie in Österreich. Wien: Institut für Wissenschaftsforschung.

Moodie, L.H., Reeve, J.C., Vermeulen, N. & M. R. Elkins. (2011). ‘Inspiratory muscle training to facilitate weaning from mechanical ventilation: protocol for a systematic review’, BMC Research Notes, 11(4), 283.

Vermeulen, N., Parker, J.N., & B. Penders (2010). ‘Big, Small or Mezzo?: Lessons from Science Studies for the ongoing debate about ‘Big’ versus ‘Little’ Science’. EMBO reports, 11, 420-423.

Parker, J. N., Vermeulen, N. & B. Penders (Eds). (2010). Collaboration in the New Life Sciences. London: Routledge.

Vermeulen, N & B. Penders (2010). ‘Collecting collaboration. Understanding life together’. In Parker, J., N. Vermeulen & B. Penders (Eds.). Collaboration in the New Life Sciences. London: Routledge.

Zuijdam, F., Boekholt, P., Deuten, J., Meijer, I., & N. Vermeulen (2010). The role and added value of large-scale research facilities. Amsterdam: Technopolis.

Arnold, E., Boekholt, P., Good, B., Radauer, A., Stroyan, J., Tiefenthaler, B. & N. Vermeulen (2010). Evaluation of Austrian support structures for FP 7 & Eureka and impact analyses of EU research initiatives on the Austrian research and innovation systemVienna: Technopolis.

Penders, B., N. Vermeulen & J. N. Parker (2010). To make progress we must remember and learn from the pastNature, 463 (7278), 157.

Vermeulen, N. (2009). Supersizing science; On building large-scale research projects in biology. Maastricht: Maastricht University Press.

Vermeulen, N. (2008). ‘Supersizing science: building large-scale research projects in biology’. In Global research seminar: Sharing Research Agendas on Knowledge Systems, Final Proceedings. Paris: UNESCO, pp. 76-77.

Vermeulen, N. & B. Penders (2007). ‘Big Science.’ In: Encyclopedia of Earth. Eds. Cutler J. Cleveland. Washington, D.C.: Environmental Information Coalition, National Council for Science and the Environment.

Vermeulen, N. & R. Kleinenberg (2004). ‘Life Sciences in de VS: stimuleren, reguleren, discussiëren’. Published online on 28-5-2004 at the TWA website of the Dutch Ministry of Economic Affairs.

Vermeulen, N. (2003). ‘Biotechnologie clusters in de Verenigde Staten’. TWAnieuws, Dutch Ministry of Economic Affairs, 41 (6), 5-7.

Vermeulen, N. & R. Kleinenberg (2003). ‘Life Sciences in de Verenigde Staten’. TWAnieuws, Dutch Ministry of Economic Affairs, 41 (4), 8.

Wilde, R. de, Vermeulen, N. & M. Reithler (2003). Bezeten van Genen; Een essay over de innovatieoorlog rondom genetisch gemodificeerd voesel[Possesed by Genes. An essay on the innovation war around genetically modified food]. Background study Netherlands Scientific Council for Government Policy, vol. 117The Hague: Sdu Publishers.