Katie Ulrich

Areas of Interest: 
sugar, molecular, energy, science research, scientists, sugarcane, biofuels, biotech, Brazil, STS, anthropology of science, multispecies anthropology, feminist anthropology

I am a PhD student in the department of anthropology at Rice University. My research takes place within the broad space of sugarcane biofuel research in Brazil. I am interested in sugar (the sucrose, the cellulose, and later, the glucose) as a source, mode, and analytic of energy, both molecular and macro. I want to ask when and how and to what effect, in the realm of energy, the molecular and the macro cross, link. (Get crosslinked, like the cellulose and lignin in lignocellulose?) Indeed, in organisms, sugar often takes the form of a macromolecule; it is one of the four major, necessary macromolecules along with proteins, nucleic acids, and lipids. Sugar provides the chemical energy for the cell to function. Sugar harvested from sugarcane is also converted into ethanol, with the help of some microbes, that then fuels cars. With attention to this particular macromolecule—in the lab, the field, the fuel tank, the stomach—I seek to think more closely about renewable energy/bioethanol modes of being and the linking of energy to knowledge practices, particularly scientific research. In what ways do biofuels (sugarcane energy) inform scientific research and modes of experimentation? How is energy given material form, molecularly and macro, in the lab and beyond? How are energy futures and science futures made together? When does research on sugarcane get linked to research on biofuels, and when does it not? How can this be helpful for thinking about the connections and connectings between science and technology, about certain scientific orientations to utility and instrumentality? Ultimately I’m hoping to be energized, conceptually, by sugar myself while thinking towards larger questions of scientific practices, material relations, and Anthropocenic existences.

I received my BA in Anthropology and Biology from Haverford College. Prior to starting my doctoral studies at Rice, I worked as a research assistant in a molecular biology lab at the University of California San Francisco.
Katie Ulrich
Graduate Student