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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.

Particle Falls

The inaugural projection of Particle Falls on Philadelphia’s Broad Street reminded me how powerful a good spectacle can be.

A sizable crowd was watching when the falls part of Particle Falls began digitally pouring down the Wilma Theater’s wall. As they precariously occupied the narrow median on Broad Street—pointing, cheering and filming—they inspired others to look in the same direction. 

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October Webcast: “Digging Up the Bodies:  Debunking CSI and Other Forensics Myths”

On October 9, 2013, CHF will air the next episode of #HistChem, “Digging Up the Bodies: Debunking CSI and Other Forensics Myths.” This month’s guests are Anna Dhody, a physical and forensic anthropologist, and Lisa Rosner, a historian. Our guests will discuss forensics past and present and the chemistry that happens to the human body.

“Digging Up the Bodies: Debunking CSI and Other Forensics Myths” will air at 7:00 p.m. EDT. Watch the live webcast at


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Poisoned Ground

During our conversation about the nuclear age on CHF’s #histchem webcast, host Michal Meyer held up the cover of the spring 2013 issue of Chemical Heritage magazine, which included my article on the effects of uranium mining on Navajo Nation, “On Poisoned Ground.” On the cover is a photo with no names. The caption states, “a Navajo miner and his family living near a uranium mine.” The photo is painfully juxtaposed with the words “half lives.” For me, these two words and the photo capture the 70 years of history since uranium mining began in the American Southwest.

There is a story behind the cover.

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How Dr. Who Ended My Fears of a Nuclear Apocalypse

I’m a Doctor Who fan, which immediately puts me into a niche within a niche. I’ve been watching the show since I was about 7 years old, which is definitely one of the advantages of growing up in the British-speaking world. The Doctor, who travels through space and time in a blue police box solving problems and defusing crises, doesn’t deal with current issues, at least not head on. So when an episode earlier this year dealt directly with the Cold War, I knew we’d hit a milestone. 

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Zombies in the Laboratory

In contrast to my posts on earlier zombie movies, in which zombies emerge from imperialized colonies or from a damaged countryside, many newer zombies have their origin in a more modern institution: the laboratory. Danny Boyle’s 28 Days Later (2002), for example, opens with a scene of animals in a medical research facility rattling their cages. The animals are infected with a virus that can only be described as “rage.”

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Pivotal Moments in Nuclear History

For our upcoming show, we asked our guests, Alex Wellerstein and Linda M. Richards, to provide us with several moments they consider most pivotal in nuclear history. They kindly obliged with not only a list but also commentary. 

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Pick Your Power! Choosing Energy for Dallas, Texas

This month’s webcast is about nuclear energy. Since the first nuclear power plant began operating in Obninsk, Russia, in 1954, popular opinion has fluctuated between embracing nuclear energy as the answer to a self-sustaining future and condemning it as irresponsibly dangerous. Some countries have invested heavily in nuclear power (France draws nearly 75% of its energy from it), while others have largely ignored it (coal-rich China produces only 2% of its energy from nuclear power plants). Recent events in Fukushima, Japan, notwithstanding, might we be on the cusp of a nuclear comeback with nuclear energy anointed the new, carbon-free, green option? You’ll have to wait for the show to find out.

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September Webcast: "Power and Promise: What's Become of Our Nuclear Golden Age?"

On Sept. 11, 2013 the Chemical Heritage Foundation will present a live online video discussion, "Power and Promise: What's Become of Our Nuclear Golden Age?" Guests Alex Wellerstein and Linda Richards will take stock of our turbulent nuclear past and look at how it has shaped our current attitudes, for better and for worse.  

"Power and Promise: What's Become of Our Nuclear Golden Age?" will air at 6 p.m. EDT.  Watch the livecast episode at  

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Zombies in the Country

Part two in our exploration of zombies in culture takes on a very different kind of zombie and villain. The most memorable scenes in Night of the Living Dead are arguably the lingering shots of zombies standing underneath a tree, greedily devouring human remains. But the most revealing scenes of George Romero’s 1968 reboot of the zombie movie genre are the few that replace the peril of zombies with a different peril.

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Zombies in the Sugar Mill

Zombies came to America in 1929. When journalist William Seabrook returned from a visit to Haiti he wrote of his experiences in a very successful travel memoir called The Magic Island. In it he described an exclusively Haitian counterpart to the werewolves, vampires, and demons of European folklore: the zombie. At the time of publication, the United States was 14 years into its occupation of Haiti, and it was common for Haitian communities and religious practices to be painted as primitive, cannibalistic, and in need of America’s civilizing presence. Not surprisingly, Seabrook’s visions of “dead men working in the cane fields” were picked up by the American press.

But what we usually forget about Seabrook’s zombie workers is who they were working for.

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