In the 20th and early 21st century, an unprecedented explosion occurred in research (and funding) focused on organisms in the biological/biomedical sciences. Understanding these organisms will in turn assist scientists and science policymakers to make practices more reflective, efficient, and productive.

Striped fish

There is however, for every success story, many failures of animal modelling and experimentation which can only improve with further research. The list of research organisms includes hundreds of species, such as:

  • the sea hare Aplysia for neurobiology
  • the nematode worm for genetics and development
  • the dog for physiology and haematology
  • the mouse in fields ranging from physiology to immunology and oncology
  • the rat in nutrition, neurology, and behavioural psychology
  • maize in agriculture.


The primary aim of this project is to generate novel historical and philosophical insights into key scientific norms and practices in the contemporary biological/biomedical sciences through comparative examination of diverse research programs which utilise non-human organisms.

  • What criteria are utilised to determine that an organism is potentially epistemically relevant in terms of the research question, phenomenon of interest, or desired product?
  • How are the limits associated with the use of any particular organism assessed and mitigated prior to adopting it for research?
  • How are trade-offs balanced between the needs to standardise and to allow for variability in the phenomena studied, the technologies used, and the organism itself?
  • In what ways have recent advances in technology (such as DNA sequencing) affected research with particular organisms?
  • What are some of the key institutional patterns that support research with organisms (e.g. cyber and material infrastructures, data and strain sharing, funding mechanisms)?
  • What kinds of distinctive and shared ensemble of elements (‘repertoires’) allow biologists to cooperate on research on a specific organism (or group of organisms)?

Approach and methods

Researcher looking at crops in glasshouse

We use blended historical and philosophical techniques to examine a range of case studies of particular organisms used in the 20th and early 21st century biological/biomedical sciences as foci for research programs. We also use quantitative methods for producing an overall snapshot of contemporary and recent practices.

This combination of methodologies provides an effective means of crossing disciplinary boundaries. It produces analyses that are useful to both history and philosophy of science scholars, as well as to practising scientists and science policymakers as the research is deeply embedded in the needs and problems of those working at the ‘coal face’ of these scientific fields.

Academic publications

Interested in getting involved?

Would you like an outstanding student experience with world-class education? Our PhD students are connected with key researchers in their field of interest, working collaboratively on research projects such as Organisms and Us. 

Examples of current research theses by our PhD and MPhil candidates include:

  • Emerging model organisms and the conceptual web of Cognitive Science, by Dook Shepherd.
  • Animal Research Ethics in Australia against a Global Backdrop, by Karina Burns.

How to apply

You’ll find full admission requirements for research degrees in the University’s Graduate Centre Academic Program Rules.

Then, to apply for a higher degree by research, visit the Adelaide Graduate Centre. If you have any queries, contact the Adelaide Graduate Centre directly.


Australian citizens and permanent residents are eligible to apply for a range of PhD scholarships. International students may be eligible to apply for a scholarship, but funding opportunities are limited and therefore extremely competitive.

Explore the University Scholarships available.