Spring 2012, Vol. 30, No. 1
Be a kid again with chemistry comic books from the 1950s, which featured real-life superheroes Antoine Lavoisier and Marie Curie. Trace the wax and wane—and wax—of amphetamine use and acceptance in the United States. Follow the trail of a mysterious illness and the families and doctors that searched for a cure, and explore a new column by science writer Sam Kean. Plus treasures from CHF’s collections, book and museum reviews, interviews, and more.
A Better Pill
Archives place history at our fingertips, but sometimes that history needs a little interpretation. Take the records of early pharmaceutical company William H. Rorer, which point to a lesson in pharmacy and good government.
A City's Tale
Walking into the Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum fills a visitor with awe. A quick glance around this central space gives a clear impression of what the museum offers: one of the largest civic collections of art and historical artifacts in the world.
British physicist Sir William Lawrence Bragg had nothing but great things to say about his father’s former student, collaborator, and friend Dame Kathleen Lonsdale. He was not alone in his admiration, as shown by the legacy this pioneering female scientist left behind.
In the 19th century arsenic was often the poison of choice for murderers. In the early 20th century its image was redeemed when an arsenic derivative became the salvation of those suffering from one of the major health scourges of that time: syphilis.
Fast Times: The Life, Death, and Rebirth of Amphetamine
Amphetamine didn’t cure anything, but it did make you feel better. Chemist Gordon Alles faced this paradox after patenting his discovery in 1932. Resolving the problem involved recasting weight issues, “down” dispositions, and even tiredness as medical conditions needing treatment. Eighty years later America’s uneasy relationship with amphetamine continues.
First Bank, Second Life
Visitors come today to the Chemical Heritage Foundation to wander our museum or use the library collection, but 100 years ago people walked into this building for a very different purpose: taking out money. On this spot the First National Bank once lived.
Robert Boyle is best known in chemistry classrooms for Boyle’s law, which describes the fundamental relationship between the pressure of a gas and the volume it occupies. Without any understanding of this relationship we would not know why weather changes or how our lungs work. But Boyle’s law was never stated outright in Boyle’s work.
Rare earth metals are the vitamins of modern technology. How did this group of chemically dull elements become so important and so troublesome?
In book collecting there is rarely anything quite as good as the first edition. But of the rare instance when a later edition is genuinely more interesting, there is no better example than the third edition of Isaac Newton’s Opticks (1718).
Leyden Jar Battery
Electricity and Enlightenment go together like Benjamin Franklin and 100-dollar bills. In the very early 1700s Francis Hauksbee put together a glass globe and a crank to make an electrostatic machine. But there was no way of storing the charge produced by the friction of cloth or leather on the spinning glass—that is, until around 1745, when Jurgen von Kleist in Pomerania and Pieter van Musschenbroek in Leyden created what became known as the Leyden jar.
In 1948 Frank Field, a newly minted chemistry Ph.D., accepted a post as an instructor at the University of Texas in Austin. His thesis research had focused on magnetochemistry—the magnetic properties of materials—but the university could not afford the magnet he required. Instead, he got a hand-me-down mass spectrometer.
Making good wine begins with the natural chemistry of the vineyard.
Michal Meyer reviews Marjorie C. Malley's book Radioactivity: A History of a Mysterious Science.
On the Scent: The Discovery of PKU
In the early 20th century mental disability was considered beyond the help of modern medicine. But one mother’s dogged search for the cause of her two healthy babies’ mental decline led to the discovery of a new disease, the first preventative screening program for a genetic condition, and the first medical food in the United States.
How can ordinary citizens get involved in science? One woman has made it her mission to bring the masses to science with some unorthodox methods.
Jody A. Roberts reviews Technoscience and Environmental Justice: Expert Cultures in a Grassroots Movement, edited by Benjamin Cohen and Gwen Ottinger.
Start It Up
Doogab Yi reviews Sally Smith Hughes' Genentech: The Beginnings of Biotech.
Stories of the Great Chemists
In the 1950s comic books took Mexico’s youth by storm. But alongside familiar superhuman avengers were other kinds of heroes: real-life chemists, whose scientific achievements were regarded with equal awe and wonder. Comic-book biographies featuring such figures as Marie Curie, Louis Pasteur, and Antoine Lavoisier did more than entertain a generation: they inspired many to start their own science adventures.