Sara Schechner, Ph.D. is the David P. Wheatland Curator of the Collection of Historical Scientific Instruments, Harvard University. She is a historian of science, specializing in material culture and the history of astronomy. At Harvard, she is a Lecturer on History of Science in the History of Science Department and has been on the faculty of the Museum Studies program. She brings over thirty-five years of museum and academic experience to the Harvard community.
Schechner earned degrees in physics and the history and philosophy of science from Harvard and Cambridge. Before returning to Harvard’s History of Science Department, Schechner was chief curator at the Adler Planetarium in Chicago, and curated exhibits for the Smithsonian Institution, the American Astronomical Society, and the American Physical Society. Her books include Comets, Popular Culture, and the Birth of Modern Cosmology (1997), Time and Time Again (2014) and Tangible Things: Making History through Objects (2015, with Laurel Thatcher Ulrich, Ivan Gaskell, and Sarah Carter). Recent research has focused on sundials, science, and social change; instruments of glass; colonial astronomy; and workshop practices in America.
Schechner has served as the Secretary of the Scientific Instrument Commission of the International Union for the History and Philosophy of Science, and the chair of the Historical Astronomy Division of the American Astronomical Society. She has also served on advisory boards for the Center for History of Science of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, the American Astronomical Society, and other organizations.
She has been deeply engaged in museum education through curated exhibitions and object-based teaching for diverse Harvard courses and programs. She has also devised innovative hands-on activities, including Shoebox Science kits that put replica astronomical instruments into the hands of students in order to teach them cultural history and astronomy. Other projects have included interactive sundials for outdoor learning centers. For the 2004 Transit of Venus, Schechner organized a sunrise festival at Harvard that included observations not only with modern instruments but also with the same telescope used by Professor John Winthrop in 1769, and the Harvard Band performing John Philip Sousa’s Transit of Venus March. In 2013, she was a principal organizer of the Summer Solstice Festival of the Harvard Museums of Science and Culture.
Schechner's work has earned her many awards. In 2018, the American Astronomical Society presented her with the LeRoy E. Doggett Prize for Historical Astronomy. Awarded biennially to an individual who has significantly influenced the field of history of astronomy through a career-long effort, it is the most prestigious prize internationally in the discipline. Schechner was the first woman to receive this award. In addition, Schechner's innovative teaching in and outside of museums and academia was recognized by the prestigious Joseph H. Hazen Education Prize of the History of Science Society in 2008. Her exhibition, Time, Life, & Matter: Science in Cambridge, on permanent display in the Putnam Gallery of Harvard’s Science Center, took First Place in the 2007 International Design Awards competition, and Body of Knowledge: A History of Anatomy (in 3 Parts) received the British Society for the History of Science's 2014 Great Exhibitions Award.
In her spare time, Schechner is a recognized quilt artist and enjoys Scottish country dancing. She lives in a historic house in West Newton that is on the National Register and has an archaeological site in her back yard.