Fall 2010, Vol. 28, No. 3
Travel back in time to uncover the real history of absinthe. Discover the connection between 1950s Soviet poster art and chemistry. Follow a particular plant sap across oceans as it links the world together in a 19th-century version of the Internet. Dip into a famous poisoning trial, find out why art and science make perfect bedfellows, and check out the comic-book history of medicine.
Changing Views on Climate
Chemical Heritage interviews Ullyot Public Affairs lecturer Susan Solomon, a senior scientist for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, who is considered one of the leaders in atmospheric science. She has led expeditions in Antarctica, proposed the now-accepted theory about the role of chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) in creating the ozone hole over Antarctica, received the National Medal of Science, and shared the Nobel Peace Prize.
A natural plastic found in tree sap allowed the expansion of the 19th century's global communications network. Gutta percha-insulated electric cables linked continents and sped up communications, inspiring hope for a new era of peace and harmony between nations, in which misunderstandings would be forever banished.
Elemental Matters: Artists Imagine Chemistry, the forthcoming exhibit in CHF’s Clifford C. Hach Gallery, features the work of contemporary artists exploring the elements as symbol, raw material, or energy. These artists transform ordinary associations about chemistry into something genuinely surprising and evocative.
Bert Hansen, Picturing Medical Progress from Pasteur to Polio: A History of Mass Media Images and Popular Attitudes in America. Reviewed by Diane Wendt.
Maidens and Other Marvels
Question: How is a spinning top like a virgin running a race (and what does either have to do with science)? Answer: Making the invisible visible often requires trading scientific language for more commonly understood comparisons.
Palmer the Poisoner
The case against William Palmer, also known as Palmer the Poisoner, was known as the trial of the century, gripping the public imagination in Victorian Britain. It also introduced forensic chemistry as a means of conviction.
Once upon a time scientists relied on artists to communicate their discoveries, and artists looked to the sciences for inspiration. The modern world witnessed a severing of these ties as increased specialization in science made it less accessible to the average person. Chemical Heritage interviews artist Rebecca Kamen and science writer Ivan Amato about the shared qualities of science and art, and how each discipline can inform and inspire the other.
Setting the Table
In the 19th century a young Italian outside the chemistry mainstream played a part in the creation of the first periodic table.
Shapes to Come
At a time when chemists knew little of molecular structure, a Viennese high-school teacher self published a book that contained some of the earliest structural formulas.
After Joseph Stalin's death Nikita Khrushchev responded to the Soviet Union's floundering economy with a program to improve agricultural and industrial productivity –– and people's lives. Official posters from that era encouraged Soviet citizens to build a better society, showcasing the ambiguous role chemistry played in Khrushchev's "Thaw."
Insulin was first used to treat diabetes in the 1920s. Since then doctors have used a multitude of tests to screen for the disease.
The Devil in a Little Green Bottle
Absinthe, an alcoholic drink introduced to France in the 1840s, developed a decadent though violent reputation. To some the drink symbolized creativity and liberation, to others, madness and despair. One thing was certain: more than science was behind European responses to its influence.
David Sarnoff wanted to be a journalist, instead he created commercial broadcasting and helped kick off the color revolution in television.
The World Inside
Michael D. Gordin reviews Image and Reality, Alan J. Rocke’s book on the changing 19th-century understanding of molecular structure.
In The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks journalist Rebecca Skloot tells the story of a poor Southern tobacco farmer who passed away in 1951, but lives on through her “immortal” cells.