Robert Smith's profile

Dr Robert Smith


Research Fellow, Social Dimensions of Synthetic Biology


Science Technology and Innovation Studies

E-Mail Telephone

0131 6504 258


G.14 Chisholm House

High School Yards

Edinburgh, UK


I work in the field of Science and Technology Studies and focus primarily on the social, political and ethical dimensions of the biosciences. I am especially interested in the ‘public’ parts of all this; what happens when biotechnologies — and the people making them — get out into the world. I’m currently pursuing these interests by participating as a social scientist in a field that attempts to make biology easier to engineer, Synthetic Biology. Here, I am focusing primarily on the relationship between research funding and public value; the ability of synthetic biology to address meaningful social and environmental challenges; and what happens when scientists try to automate important parts of their work. A lot of my research involves working closely with synthetic biologists, other social scientists, artists and policy makers; in unexpected spaces; and with lots of different kinds of increasingly large data (of the digital kind, funding portfolios), so I am fundamentally interested in method.

I joined The University of Edinburgh in April 2018 to work with Jane Calvert as part of the Engineering Life Project and Centre for Mammalian Synthetic Biology. This builds on two years worth of researching, intervening and scheming (sometimes with with synthetic biologists) at the Department of Global Health & Social Medicine, King’s College London. I completed my PhD at the University of Nottingham, during which I was interested in the development of a biofuel controversy in the UK, and particularly the way that groups — policy makers, NGOs, research funders, scientists and consultants — navigated and reacted to this controversy. I originally trained as a biologist and hold a BSc (Hons) in Animal Science.

I’d be very happy to talk to anyone in more detail about any of this!

Research Interests

Science policy synthetic biology Emerging Biotechnologies Public Value Governance of Science and Technology Collaborative Methods Research Funding Responsible Innovation Science and Technology Studies Biofuels

Dr Robert Smith has not added any teaching activity to this section yet.

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

Policy Reports

Smith, R.D.J., Scott, D., Kamwendo, Z.T., Calvert, J. (2019) An Agenda for Responsible Research and Innovation in ERA CoBioTech. Swindon, UK: Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council and ERA CoFund
on Biotechnology.

Ellis, T., Rosser, S., Cai, Y., Smith, R., Freemont, P. (2018) Synthesing a Human Genome. What could go right? Report of a Wellcome Trust Workshop.

Smith, R.D.J., Samuel, G. (2018) Who’s talking about non-human Genome Editing? Mapping public discussion in the U.K. London: Sciencewise.

Smith, R.D.J.,, Marris, C., Berry, D., Sundaram, L., Rose, N. (2017) Synthetic Biology Biosensors for Global Health Challenges: Workshop report of the flowers consortium. London: King's College London

Journal Articles

Smith, R., Hartley, S., Jewitt, T., Middleton, P (Working) Integrating diverse knowledges into research funding organisations: Consequences for responsible innovation.

Ribeiro, B., Smith, R.& Millar, K. (2017) A mobilising concept? Unpacking academic representations of responsible research and innovation. Science and Engineering Ethics.23(1) 81-103.

Raman, S., Helliwell, R., Mohr, A., Ribeiro, B., Shortall, O., Smith, R.& Millar, K. (2015) Integrating social and ethical dimensions into sustainability assessment of lignocellulosic biofuels. Biomass and Bioenergy (RCUK Bioenergy Manchester special issue).

Boucher, P., Smith, R.& Millar, K., (2014) Biofuels under the spotlight: The state of assessment and potential for integration. Science and Public Policy, 41(3), pp.283–293.

Doctoral Thesis

Smith, R.D.J. (2015) Constructing ‘the ethical’ in the development of biofuels. University of Nottingham.