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Harding Distinguished Postgraduate Scholars Programme


Grace Field 

United Kingdom

Department of History and Philosophy of Science, Trinity Hall

PhD thesis: From analogue black holes to animal testing: What does it mean to use one system to stand in for another?

Research Interests
1. Philosophy of physics
2. History of physics (especially how it can be used to inform debates in philosophy of physics)
3. Philosophy of science
4. Philosophy of law


My PhD focuses on the role of analogy in modern science, especially in modern physics. Analogy has recently been brought into the limelight by the rise of analogue gravity, a controversial new field of physics that uses table-top ‘model black holes’ to try to learn about the behaviour of real astrophysical black holes. But does it really make sense to draw conclusions about astrophysical black holes, incredibly massive far-away features of spacetime, based on experiments that we run on models in a lab on Earth? And more generally, what does it ever mean to take one system to stand in for another? I will be using several case studies, from physics to biology to law, to draw general conclusions about what analogy can tell us, and what it can’t tell us.


Plans after graduation:

In January 2023, I joined ICF as a Marine and Environmental Policy Consultant. In my role as a Policy Consultant, I provide research, analysis and evaluation services for UK government clients, using mixed methods analysis to assess the progress of policy interventions and generate lessons for future delivery. I work with a range of clients across government, including Defra, Natural England and the Department for Transport, covering topics from peatland restoration to transport decarbonization. One of the most exciting projects I am currently delivering is a 3-year evaluation of the ~£700 million Nature for Climate Fund Tree Programme, the scheme tasked with tripling tree planting rates in England between 2020 and 2025. Moving into environmental policy after my PhD was a shift away from the niche of my thesis topic and towards the broader science policy work I had the opportunity to be involved with at Cambridge. It also built on the policy experience I gained on placement as a Policy Advisor in the civil service during the third year of my PhD. I am grateful for the support provided by the Harding Scholarship throughout my PhD to allow me to develop my interest and experience in the interface between evidence, science and policy.


Who or what inspired you to pursue your research interests?

I was inspired to pursue my research interests by a talk on analogue gravity at the Cambridge HPS department during my first month as an MPhil student last year. I began to research analogue gravity for one of my MPhil essays, and soon realized that the questions at stake there open up much wider questions about the role of analogy in general. We use analogy every time we interpret the results of an experiment. But somehow that is accepted as standard scientific practice, whereas other kinds of analogical reasoning are highly controversial. I wanted to know: are these forms of inference really any different, and if so, how and why?