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Distillations explores aspects of humanity’s scientific and cultural legacy and asks the question, “How did we get here?” Our hosts are Michal Meyer, historian of science and editor in chief of Chemical Heritage magazine, and Bob Kenworthy, CHF’s in-house chemist. Each month they’ll guide us through engaging topics about history, technology, and science.

 

All posts in Technology

Episode 189: Intoxication & Civilization: Beer's Ancient Past

This show takes on the frothy subject of beer, and explores the science, culture, and history behind the suds.

"Intoxication and Civilization: Beer’s Ancient Past" features beer and wine archaeologist Patrick E. McGovern and chemist, professor, and home brewer Roger Barth.

Our guests discuss the science behind beer, how modern craft breweries can help us understand ancient beers, and how technology has allowed us to drink like an ancient king. They also discuss the spiritual side of beer and the role beer has played in human evolution.

 

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Episode 188: Alchemy's Rainbow: Pigment Science and the Art of Conservation

Our latest show explores the colorful (and sometimes risk-filled) history of pigments and painters, and the conservators who save paintings from the ravages of time and accidental chemistry.

"Alchemy’s Rainbow: Pigment Science and the Art of Conservation" features art conservator Mark F. Bockrath and art historian and CHF fellow Elisabeth Berry Drago.

Our guests discuss and show the messy and occasionally dangerous process of making paints from pigments and the transition to using paints from tubes. They explain how conservators preserve paintings and why alchemists were so important to painters in early modern times.

 

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Episode 187: Meet Joe Palca: A Radio Story About Making Radio Stories

Joe Palca is one of the best science storytellers out there. In his 20 years as an NPR science correspondent he’s covered all sorts of obscure topics, from soccer-playing robots and oyster glue to turtle paleontology. He finds the humor in the serious and the thoughtful in the funny, usually by focusing on the human elements of stories.

“Stories are usually about people, those are the ones we remember. We don’t remember stories about transuranic elements,” Palca says.

We took this episode of Distillations on the road and visited Palca at NPR headquarters in Washington, D.C., where we got a behind-the-scenes tour of his program, Joe’s Big Idea.

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Posted In: Medicine | Society | Technology

Episode 186: Drawing History: Telling the Stories of Science through Comics and Graphic Novels

How do you show what the inside of an atom looks like? Or how a scientist feels in the moment of discovery?

We decided to approach the human stories of science in a new way: by visualizing them. Our guests, historian Bert Hansen and author and illustrator Jonathan Fetter-Vorm, discuss how the comics of the 1930s, 40s and 50s relayed stories of “real heroes”—including doctors, chemists and physicists, and how new graphic genres are engaging readers and sparking their interest in history and science.

Fetter-Vorm and Hansen suggest that elements of surprise, emotion and showing the impossible work to engage readers in ways that written words alone cannot.

 

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Episode 185: Why the Chicken Became a Nugget and Other Tales of Processed Food

Have you ever wondered how chicken nuggets are made? Or what propylene glycol monostearate, monocalcium phosphate, or other listed ingredients are doing in your favorite packaged snacks? Distillations hosts Michal Meyer and Robert Kenworthy certainly wondered, and they went to the corner deli to inspect some processed food themselves. 

They also spoke with experts Bryant Simon, a historian, and David Schleifer, a sociologist, about how trans fats and chicken nuggets arrived on the food scene as the healthier options, but have since turned into villains. 

Both Simon and Schleifer suggest that when it comes to deciding what we eat, we might have less choice than we think. Class, geography, and convenience (for both food makers and food eaters) all play a role.

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Episode 184: Digging Up the Bodies: Debunking CSI and Other Forensics Myths

Thanks to modern technology most crimes these days can be neatly solved in under an hour. At least that's what fictional TV shows like CSI seem to suggest. 

We wanted to address the so-called "CSI Effect," caused by the simplification of forensic science in popular culture. CSI and  like minded TV showswith their heroic investigators solving crimes in mere minutesmislead viewers and affect real court cases. The reality of investigation is much slower and more complex, but no less fascinating.

Hosts Michal Meyer and Robert Kenworthy speak with experts Anna Dhody, a physical and forensic anthropologist, and Lisa Rosner, a historian. They discuss the early days of solving crime and the on-going chemistry of the human body throughout life and death.

 

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Episode 183: Atomic Power and Promise: What's Become of Our Nuclear Golden Age?

Some say we are on the verge of a bright future in which nuclear power will play a major role in responding to climate change. Others say that we should expect more Fukushimas. Whichever way our nuclear future goes, there will be tradeoffs between energy and the environment.

Hosts Michal Meyer and Robert Kenworthy speak with nuclear historians Alex Wellerstein and Linda Richards. They discuss how our turbulent nuclear past has shaped, for better and for worse, our current attitudes.

 

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Episode 182: Zombies! How We Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Zombie Apocalypse

What can zombies teach us about our fears of survival? CHF's Michal Meyer and Robert Kenworthy talk to Deanna Day, a CHF fellow, and Robert Hicks, director of the College of Physicians’ Mütter Museum about what zombies can tell us about apocalyptic diseases and medical cures.

With the popularity of post-apocalyptic storytelling at an all-time high, CHF decided to look into the science, history, and sociology behind these fears.

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Episode 178: In the Air

On today’s show we go local when it comes to checking up on air quality. Next up is the people power behind civic science and how nonscientists can gather useful data on their surroundings.

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Posted In: Society | Technology

Episode 177: The Old Show

Join us for the third installment of The Stages of Life, spotlighting the chemistry found in childhood, adulthood, and old age. We start by looking at what happens to the brain as we move into old age, and then we investigate how some tiny technology can help as hearing fades.

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Posted In: Society | Technology