University of Sydney sociologist bound for IAS in Princeton

Associate Professor Sonja Van Wichelen has been invited to join the prestigious Institute of Advanced Study in Princeton (IAS), which counts Albert Einstein and J. Robert Oppenheimer among its past members.
Sonja Van Wichelen standing outside the University's Social Sciences Building.

The IAS selected Associate Professor Van Wichelen from more than 1500 applications for membership worldwide. She will travel to Princeton, New Jersey to join the IAS’s School of Social Sciences in the US academic year 2020-2021, which begins in September.

Traversing legal anthropology, medical sociology, and the social study of science, Associate Professor Van Wichelen’s research broadly explores how new biomedical technologies are redefining society, law and politics.

This aligns with the IAS’s theme for 2020-2021 of ‘Science and the State‘, which the institute says will explore “how states support, use, and regulate sciences, and how the sciences support the structure, function, and legitimacy of states”.

While at the IAS, Associate Professor Van Wichelen will pursue her own research on the global transfer of human biological material, as well as collaborating with other visiting scholars representing a diverse range of disciplines.

Her current research, which investigates the tensions between national and global medico-legal regulatory regimes in Southeast Asian countries, has important implications for medical tourism, biosecurity, and the rapidly growing biotech field.

“Asian countries are becoming major players in the world of bioscience, yet what is often overlooked is the role that law plays in securing or negating global health imperatives and new biomedical technologies,” Associate Professor Van Wichelen said.

“During my time at the IAS, my research will focus on Indonesia, an important strategic partner in the global governance of health and biomedical research.

“My project will benefit greatly from the intellectual interaction with scholars from different disciplines who are working with similar concepts and I hope to offer my expertise in the study of life and law in a Southeast Asian context.”

Associate Professor Van Wichelen began this research as a 2018 Sydney Research Accelerator (SOAR) fellow and has continued this work as the research lead of the Biohumanity FutureFix Theme in the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences. She is the Director of the University of Sydney’s Biopolitics of Science Research Network and a member of the Sydney Southeast Asia Centre.

Her recent academic outputs have included the book Legitimating Life: Adoption in the Age of Globalization and Biotechnology, the edited volume Personhood in the Age of Biolegality, and a scholarly paper on the regulations around intercountry adoption published in Law and Society Review.

Professor Duncan Ivison, Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research), congratulated Associate Professor Van Wichelen saying, “Membership to the IAS is highly competitive and only awarded to researchers making exceptional advances in their fields. We are delighted that Sonja’s continuing excellence in the field of biohumanities has been recognised in this way.”

About the Institute for Advanced Study

The Institute for Advanced Study is one of the world’s leading centres for curiosity-driven basic research. Since 1930, it has served as a model for protecting and promoting independent inquiry, prompting the establishment of similar institutes around the world and underscoring the importance of academic freedom worldwide. Among its present and past faculty and members are 34 Nobel Laureates, 42 of the 60 Fields Medallists and 18 of the 20 Abel Prize Laureates, as well as many MacArthur Fellows and Wolf Prize winners. Past faculty members have included Albert Einstein and distinguished scientists and scholars such as Kurt Gödel and J. Robert Oppenheimer.

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