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Blog Archive

CHF staff and scholars provide a behind-the-scenes guide to activities at CHF, with reflections on science education, provocative explorations of chemistry in the wider world, and much more.

This page holds archived blog posts. Visit our Tumblr page to see recent content and to join the conversation.

Food for Thought

Food for thought, food for love, even food for life. Food is far more than a list of ingredients on food labels.

Not even CHF can give the whole story of food, but here’s some food for conversation. The topic of the month is processed food. So let’s jump back in time with Sarah Everts, who begins her story deep in the pyramids of ancient Egypt.

Closer to our own time, Chemical Heritage’s Clay Cansler uncovers a 19th century way to process beef that was invented by a famous chemist and a roadbuilder. Even more surprising than its origins is the fact that the method is still in use today. Read on for more tasty morsels!

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To Ban or Not to Ban

It’s not every day that the FDA proposes a ban on a relatively common ingredient in processed food: trans fats. Is it time to say goodbye to microwave popcorn, frozen pizza, and even margarine?

Those who support the ban, such as the editorial board of the New York Times, base their support on the expected improvement in people’s health. Those who oppose the ban see it as government overreach, a nanny state telling people what they can and can’t eat.

For opponents it comes down to choice, a position I am sympathetic to. After all, cigarettes are not banned. Why can’t those who don’t want trans fats in their diets just avoid the stuff?

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The Beginnings of Trans Fats (And Maybe Their End?)

History doesn’t often make the news, but sometimes relevance will sneak up on me.

In our upcoming #HistChem show, “Why the Chicken Became a Nugget and Other Tales of Processed Food,” we ask how our food got so processed over the past 50 years.

 I think it’s a fascinating topic, but not one that would make headlines. Except it did.

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Falling Upwards: An Interview with Richard Holmes

In his new book, Falling Upwards: How We Took to the Air, Richard Holmes approaches the history of ballooning as a biographer would—focusing on the balloonists themselves. He uncovers stories of the personalities drawn to ballooning: the exhibitionists, the scientists, and the escapists.

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November 20th Webcast: “Why the Chicken Became a Nugget and Other Tales of Processed Food”

On November 20, 2013, the Chemical Heritage Foundation presents a live #HistChem webcast that takes a historical look at how humanity has shifted its expectations about food, from fresh and flavorful to fast and frugal.

The webcast will air at 6 p.m. EST and can be viewed at Guests will include author Bryant Simon and sociologist David Schleifer. 

To view past webcasts visit the Chemical Heritage Foundation Vimeo channel.

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Digging Up the Bodies

Crime? It’s as old as history. Detecting crime? Only as old as science. And when it comes to poison most foul, the 19th century is when you want to go. Real forensics began during that century, and much of the credit belongs to a transplanted Spaniard. Mateu Orfila created the first work of forensic toxicology, Traité des Poisons, which was first published in 1814 (and is now living a blameless life in CHF’s rare books collection). Orfila’s pursuit of justice through forensics made corpses of many animals. Orfila fed his lab animals different poisons, watched the often painful results, and then dissected the bodies to find out how the poisons killed

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Distillations Transition

After nearly six years the Distillations podcast that many of you know (and, we hope, love) is transforming.

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What  Evidence Would You Trust?

Here’s a hypothetical (but not unlikely) situation: You’ve been called for jury duty and chosen for a criminal case. Investigators present a number of different pieces of evidence including fingerprints, burn marks, hair, and DNA. Which of these can chemists use to most accurately determine what happened? 

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Forensic Science and the Quest for Certainty

Agatha Christie fans are well acquainted with the poisonous properties of foxglove, Digitalis purpurea, the pretty, bright-purple plant found on roadsides throughout the United States. Foxglove and its active agent, digitalis, was used for medicinal purposes for centuries, especially as a diuretic in cases of dropsy (oedema). Robert Christison (1797–1882), a professor of medical jurisprudence at the University of Edinburgh, was among the first to provide a systematic account of its properties as a poison.

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