Philip Olson, an assistant professor in the Department of Science and Technology in Society, received a 2017 Excellence in Outreach and International Initiatives Award from the College for Liberal Arts and Human Sciences.
Olson is particularly interested in how the development and use of new technologies reveal and reshape social, political, ethical, and epistemological norms. His interdisciplinary focus takes place at the intersections of technology studies, bioethics, the sociology of medicine, environmental ethics, women’s and gender studies, and social epistemology.
He has placed particular focus on technologies used to dispose of human corpses, an interest shaped by a family tradition in the funeral industry, dating back to one of his great-grandfathers. While researching alkaline hydrolysis, a chemical alternative to cremation for disposing of remains, Olson discovered the green burial movement.
“This is not just about disposing of the body,” he said in a 2014 Virginia Tech news article about organizing a film screening and panel discussion on environmentally sound end-of-life practices. “These conservation preserves for burial are not like traditional cemeteries. They are woods — you can go there and have a picnic.”
Olson organized the event to benefit the local community.
“This award is well-deserved recognition for Dr. Olson’s efforts to promote public education and engagement on changing death-care technologies,” said Daniel Breslau, chair of the department. “Dr. Olson works locally and nationally, helping people rethink how we treat our bodies when we are done with them and empowering people to adopt new technologies in ways that are consistent with their values.”