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Distillations Podcast

Distillations explores the human stories behind science and technology, tracing a path through history in order to better understand the present. 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 we examine the intersections of culture, history, and material science.

 

All posts in medicine

Episode 191: Wake up and Smell the Story: Sniffing out Health and Sickness

If you asked people which of their senses they most feared losing, they'd probably say sight or hearing. But what about the ability to smell? This episode of Distillations examines what is perhaps our most underrated sense, and ponders what life would be like without it.

We hit the streets of South Philadelphia to understand how a pervasive odor troubled neighborhood residents in the summer of 2014. Then we hear the story of Mario Rivas, a man who has lived his whole life without a sense of smell, and the great lengths he went to gain one.

Then, we'll talk to two smell experts, Pamela Dalton, a psychologist at the Monell Chemical Senses Center in Philadelphia, and David Barnes, a professor of the history of medicine and public health at the University of Pennsylvania. Our guests discuss the connection between smelling, odors, and emotions, as well as the history of odors, germs, and public health crises.

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Episode 190: The Teeth Beneath Your Feet: Oddities in Urban Archaeology

Where can you find a teacup, the molar of a goat, and an arrowhead all in one place? At an urban archaeology site, that’s where. This episode of Distillations goes underground, and reveals the fascinating worlds beneath our city shoes.

“The Teeth Beneath Your Feet: Oddities in Urban Archaeology” features urban archaeologists Doug Mooney, senior archaeologist at URS corporation and president of the Philadelphia Archaeological Forum, and Deirdre Kelleher, who is finishing her doctorate at Temple University.

We visit an artifact processing lab where volunteers are dusting off thousands of objects from a historic street in Philadelphia, and then we stop in on an excavation site alongside Interstate 95. Finally our guests discuss public archaeology, debunk a few of the field’s myths (no dinosaurs here, folks), describe the unique process of digging in cities, and explain why archaeology is important for everyone.

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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 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 181: Chemotherapy

On today’s show we take a look at a disease feared for millennia: cancer. Until the 20th century cancer was almost always a death sentence. Find out what changed. And then listen to a very personal story as a daughter follows her father through chemotherapy.

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Posted In: Medicine | Society

Episode 165: In Good Taste

Today your taste buds take center stage. First, how super-tasters' genetic gift might afford them better health. Then the art of imitation flavors.

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