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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.

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All posts in History

Alchemical Actors in the Hach Gallery

For the Hach Gallery exhibit that features rare books from the Othmer Library, The Alchemical Quest, exhibit designer Keith Ragone aims to create a “set design for the actors which are the books.”

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First Person: Vladimir Prelog

Sometimes important discoveries happen in the lab; sometimes they happen in unexpected spaces. In 1954 Vladimir Prelog learned that a formal ball was just the place to work out an important scientific issue.

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Posted In: History

Dead Bacteria

There are a goodly number of medicinal agents that remain useful for treating bacterial infections, even despite the specter of antibiotic resistance. But a recent study reveals that the mechanism by which they kill bad bacteria is more complicated than we ever expected.

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Posted In: History

How to Make History of Science Interesting: Part II

It’s an old case, but not a cold case. Isaac Newton left clues in his own hand. “Two women clothed riding on two lyons each with a heart in her hand....The right hand lyon farts on a company of young lions behind it….” Rather than an example of bad taste, Newton’s farting lion is part of a sophisticated chemical process. Unfortunately, no one has yet unlocked its meaning.

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Posted In: History

The Materiality of Music

The emergence of the semiconductor industry has opened up new frontiers in electronic music. The effects of this transition recently became apparent to me while designing The College of New Jersey’s From Etherphone to Microchip, an exhibit that spans the history of electronics from radio to high-definition television, including several milestones from the history of electronic music.

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Posted In: Fellows | History | Technology

How to Make History of Science Interesting: Part I

Chemistry can be a dirty business—just ask Isaac Newton. He begins one of his alchemical recipes with “Take of Urin one Barrel.” He then instructs the person with the newly acquired barrel of urine to let it ferment for three months in the summer. Neighbors back then must have been a less litigious bunch.

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Posted In: History

First Person: Manson Benedict

Sometimes the path to becoming a chemist isn’t straightforward. Though Manson Benedict would later play a pivotal role in the Manhattan Project, serve on the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission, and win the National Medal of Science, the Great Depression made him question his decision to study physical chemistry.

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Posted In: History

Collective Voice: 50th Anniversary of LCD Research

In September 1962 The Jetsons premiered on ABC, bringing flying cars, robotic housemaids, and flat-panel displays to primetime. The last we now take for granted, but in 1962 the idea of a television thin enough to mount on the wall was as farfetched as a pair of antigravity boots. Few Americans knew that a chemist working for the Radio Corporation of America had—50 years ago today—already taken the first step toward transforming that science-fiction dream into a reality.

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Posted In: History | Technology

First Person: Alfred O.C. Nier

In his 1989 oral history interview University of Minnesota physics professor Alfred O. C. Nier claimed, “I suspect I’ve worked longer and more continuously in mass spectrometry than anybody ever has.” Nier’s career spanned decades, and with his specialization in an extremely technical field, he made an impact on some of the most important and exciting scientific achievements of the 20th century.

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Posted In: History | Technology

First Person: Calvin Fuller

While CHF's oral history interviewees are often distinguished scientists with lengthy careers, it's rare that one can say he or she made it to Hollywood. But Calvin Fuller of Bell Labs did—due in part to his role in World War II synthetic rubber research.

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Posted In: History | Technology