Brown Bag Lectures (BBLs) are a series of weekly, informal talks on the history of chemistry or related subjects, including the history and social studies of science, technology, and medicine. Based on original research (sometimes still in progress), these talks are given by local scholars for an audience of CHF staff and fellows and interested members of the public.
The Brown Bag Lecture Series is a project of the Beckman Center for the History of Chemistry and the Othmer Library of Chemical History.
January 24, 2012
This talk discussed the motivation of American students to join Bunsen’s Heidelberg laboratory, and their reception and transmission of Bunsen’s style of teaching and research after their return to the United States.
January 31, 2012
This talk explored aspects of the priority dispute over the periodic table between its two main claimants, St. Petersburg chemist Dmitrii I. Mendeleev (1834–1907) and Julius Lothar Meyer (1830–1895); first it interrogated the category of “priority” in general and then examined the specific role this debate played in the catapulting of the Russian language from a negligible mode of scientific communication to a significant language alongside English, French, and German as languages of chemistry in the late 19th century.
February 7, 2012
How did a mid-19th-century concern with stench become a Progressive Era fight against smoke? Why did smoke transform from a symbol of civic pride and progress to the harbinger of a polluted atmosphere? This talk provided one answer to these questions by closely examining the connections between anti-stench and anti-smoke agitation.
February 21, 2012
This talk discussed the educational reforms as the final step in the regimentation of the German chemical profession and its integration into the militarized structure of National Socialist technology in preparation for war, a process fraught with negative implications for the quality of German chemical education.
February 28, 2012
In this talk, Francl discussed some of the rhetorical strategies employed in the exchanges in chemistry journals from the late 19th century, such as Sir William Crookes’s Chemical News, and in 21st-century blogs, such as In the Pipeline.
March 6, 2012
In 1943 Oliver E. Buckley, lamenting the inadequacy of the term physics to describe what physicists did, quoted the proverb, “A good name is rather to be chosen than great riches.” Decades later, solid-state physicists felt similar discontent, renaming their field “condensed matter physicists” (CMP).
March 13, 2012
Continuing the work of an exhibition at the Folger Shakespeare Library from last year, this presentation placed Robert Boyle’s experiment “Of turning the Blew of Violets into a Red by Acid Salts, and to a Green by Alcalizate and the use of it for Investigating the Nature of Salts” in the context of the extensive archive of women’s medical receipts.
March 20, 2012
This talk highlighted the inherent tensions between standardization and improvisation that shaped the Soviet civilian nuclear program from its outset and informed reactor-design choices, personnel training, and the organization of the entire sector.
March 27, 2012
Analyzing the postwar paleotemperature research program of Harold C. Urey, one of the founding members of the institute and a pioneer in the field of isotope geochemistry, this talk made the following arguments: the traumatic experience of wartime atomic work turned Urey away from the development of isotope separation techniques and toward the use of stable isotopes in answering fundamental questions about Earth and the other planets; and the institute, which brought together the interests and support of the university, industry, and emergent cold war funding agencies, became an ideal place for the development of Urey’s new research program.
April 3, 2012
Over the last four decades policy makers have tended to seek the solution to the riddle of sustainability in “innovation,” an opaque expression connoting advanced science and engineering as a thrifty, expeditious, and apolitical fix for social problems. This presentation explored the forces perpetuating this idea in case studies of post-1945 enterprises of energy and power source R&D in the United States.
April 10, 2012
In this talk we saw how as a result, in contrast to the American philanthropic tradition of the financial support of science, there emerged a strong preference for direct collaboration in scientific research with personnel, materials, instrumentation, and political sponsorship to guarantee these industrialized sciences’ support by the German state.
April 17, 2012
This talk discussed the discovery of argon, which spawned a locus of controversy over propriety and property in making scientific claims that dragged on for several years, as a host of new gases were put forward as pretenders to elemental status.
April 24, 2012
This talk focused on scrubbers, devices absorbing sulfur dioxide from coal-fired power-plant emissions. It first examined how EPA engineers successfully developed and demonstrated scrubbers as the pollution-control technology against its technical and regulatory alternatives like low-sulfur coal, stack height increases, and intermittent control systems.
May 1, 2012
This talk illustrated how body-hair studies developed at the intersection of national politics and transnational scientific cultures to shape the “indigenous question” in mid-20th-century Chile.
May 8, 2012
In October 2007 Eastman Chemical Company unveiled a new copolyester called Tritan. This talk described how members of Eastman’s scientific, legal, and marketing staff ensured that Tritan made a smooth transition into the global marketplace.