Media

Archives

Categories

Contributors

Subscribe iTunes Subscribe:

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 Technology

Episode 194: Life with HIV: Success without a Cure?

Thirty years ago an HIV diagnosis was a death sentence. Today, sophisticated drug cocktails known as highly active antiretroviral therapy, or HAART, have dramatically changed the fates of people with the disease. 

Yet in many ways we’re treading water: each year the U.S. sees around 50,000 new HIV cases, and estimates show that 20-25% of these people don’t know they’re infected. And, while the drugs are effective, many people throughout the world can’t afford them.

So should we consider our response to HIV a complete success story? This episode of Distillations tries to find the answer.

Our journey begins in San Francisco’s Castro District, the epicenter of the city’s HIV epidemic in the 1980s. Reporter Andrew Bowen talks to AIDS activist Tez Anderson, who started an organization to combat AIDS Survivor Syndrome.

Then we talk to Dr. Mark W. Kline and Andrew P. Rice, a physician and a virologist who have been working on HIV since the 1980s, and ask them if we can claim victory.

Read More ›

Episode 193: Babies on Demand: Reproduction in a Technological Age

At the beginning of the 19th century women in the United States had an average of seven or eight children. By 1900 they had only three or four, and today 35% of American women have exactly two. How did this happen?

This episode of Distillations explores the role technology has played in reproduction, and how it has affected the ethical and moral landscape that surrounds it.

First, reporter Allison Quantz talks to her sister to find out what she plans to do with her extra frozen embryos. Along the way Quantz learns that there are more than one million frozen embryos in the United States with similar uncertain futures.

Then we talk with Deanna Day, a historian of medicine and technology and a post-doctoral fellow at CHF, and Lara Freidenfelds, a historian who writes about women’s health, sex, and reproduction in America.

Read More ›

Episode 192: Fogs of War: The Many Lives of Chemical Weapons

Chemical weapons have played a chilling role in human history ever since they were first used in World War I.  As reports of more recent use continue to cycle through the news, we decided to take a deeper look.  We wanted to understand why chemical weapons were created in the first place, the ethical dilemmas inherent in their use, and the complicated process of getting rid of them.

The story begins in Belgium, where reporter Helena de Groot visits a farm in Flanders Fields—the frontline during World War I—and discovers that for some people the war isn’t yet over.

Then we talk to Jeffrey Johnson, a historian of science and technology at Villanova University with a special interest in the origins of chemical warfare, and Amy E. Smithson, a senior fellow at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies, who specializes in modern-day chemical and biological weapons and their proliferation. Our guests discuss the past and present of chemical weapons, and share their thoughts about the future of warfare.

 

Read More ›

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.

Read More ›

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.

Read More ›

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.

 

Read More ›

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.

 

Read More ›

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.

Read More ›

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.

 

Read More ›

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.

Read More ›

The Museum at CHF

The Museum at CHF

Explore the fascinating history of chemistry and the role science plays in the modern world at our museum in Philadelphia.

Join the Conversation

Blog logo
Our blog brings the stories of science and culture directly to you.