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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

Coffeehouse Culture at CHF

London Coffeehouse, a frequent destination for Joseph Priestley, was a place to exchange ideas, engage in thought-provoking conversation, and meet new people. CHF continues this tradition over two centuries later through the Joseph Priestley Society.

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Posted In: History

First Person: Ernest H. Volwiler

At the close of World War II, Ernest H. Volwiler was asked to do something out of the ordinary for an industrial chemist: visit German chemistry facilities on an intelligence mission. It was, he explained in his 1986 oral history, “a very interesting development, because we didn't have a good idea about the kinds of activities the Germans were involved in and how intensive they were.”

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Posted In: History

The Real Marie Curie

Marie Curie is one of the few scientists the public can name, but how much do we know about her really? Three articles in the new issue of Chemical Heritage get to the bottom of the woman behind the myth.

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Posted In: History

Collective Voice: Happy Birthday, PC

Thirty years ago today, IBM issued a press release announcing the IBM Personal Computer, the company’s “smallest, lowest-priced computer system.” The personal computer has changed our daily lives in ways that would have seemed other-worldly in 1981. It has also changed laboratories. For the PC’s 30th anniversary, I thought it would be interesting to look at some laboratory images from CHF’s photographic collections that demonstrative the transformative effects of the electronic age.

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Posted In: History

Go Figure

The most recent weight-loss fad being pitched in the news turns out to be as medically questionable as the rest. Why do we keep falling for scientifically-dubious diets?

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Posted In: History

Electric Life

Today we remember Luigi Galvani and Alessandro Volta through such words as “galvanized” and “volt.” But the curious (and somewhat creepy) experiments connected to their work ought not to be forgotten.

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Posted In: History

Discount DNA

Researchers are working hard to lower the cost of DNA sequencing. What are the benefits and why does this matter? CHF oral history interviewee George Church weighs in.

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Posted In: History | Technology

If This is a Man (of Science)

“Linking the destinies of an individual and a molecule, chemistry defines very specific relationships between man and matter: neither domination nor submission, but a perpetual negotiation—through alliances or hand-to-hand struggles—among individual materials and human demands," explain Bernadette Bensaude-Vincent and Isabel Stengers in their history of chemistry. Some of the most beautiful reflections on such negotiations were penned by Italian chemist Primo Levi.

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Posted In: History

Something Smells at the Museum

History museums are beginning to experiment with smells in exhibitions, but they must tread carefully not to simply incorporate smells without thinking about context.

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Posted In: Education | History

An Uncool Discovery

Holding up in the heat? Across the country, people are praising their air conditioning units. But decades ago these appliances came with dangerous and environmentally-devastating risks.

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Posted In: History | Technology