Distillations | Science History Institute
Each episode of Distillations podcast takes a deep-dive into a moment of science-related history in order to shed light on the present.
info_outline Mechanochemistry 07/13/2022
Mechanochemistry What comes to mind when you think of a chemistry lab? Maybe it’s smoke billowing out of glassware, or colorful test tubes, or vats of toxic substances. Chemistry and hazardous solvents just seem to go hand in hand. But chemists like James Mack think there’s a greener way: It’s called mechanochemistry, a kind of chemistry that uses physical force to grind materials instead of solvents. And it’s getting the attention of such huge corporations as Exxon Mobil. Still, some chemists are not ready to give up their traditional techniques. “I thought they were married to the molecules,” says Mack, who is pictured above placing vials into a machine that uses fast-spinning ball bearings to pulverize molecules. “Little did I know they were actually married to the flask.” Credits Host: Reporter, Producer, and Audio Engineer: Senior Producer: Producer: Associate Producer:
info_outline Lost Tales of Love, War, and Genius as Written by Our Genetic Code 03/01/2022
Lost Tales of Love, War, and Genius as Written by Our Genetic Code The Disappearing Spoon, a between the Science History Institute and New York Times best-selling author Sam Kean, returns for its third season on March 8, 2022. To celebrate, our producer, Padmini Parthasarathy, sat down with Kean to talk about his book The Violinist's Thumb: And Other Lost Tales of Love, War, and Genius, as Written by Our Genetic Code. This interview is a great companion piece for the new season of The Disappearing Spoon, which tackles all sorts of strange and interesting stories about the geniuses we know well—from Einstein and his great scientific blunder that turned out to be correct, to Monet and the cataracts that almost made him put down his brush forever. Listen as Kean talks about violin protégé Niccolo Paganini, whose genes were both a blessing and a curse, the scientific arms race that led to the mapping of the human genome, and the sometimes-murky lines between human and non-human. Credits Hosts: and Senior Producer: Producer: Associate Producer: Audio Engineer: Photo:
info_outline Disappearing Spoon: The Murderous Origins of the American Medical Association 11/30/2021
Disappearing Spoon: The Murderous Origins of the American Medical Association In this episode of The Disappearing Spoon, Sam Kean talks about the strange origin story of the American Medical Association. The creation of this powerful medial society can be traced back to a dual between two doctors at Transylvania University in Kentucky.
info_outline Disappearing Spoon: The Harvard Medical School Janitor Who Solved a Murder 11/16/2021
Disappearing Spoon: The Harvard Medical School Janitor Who Solved a Murder In a building full of dead bodies, how can you tell a murder victim from an unlucky stiff?
info_outline Disappearing Spoon: Kangaroo (and Pig and Monkey and Dog and Donkey) Courts 10/05/2021
Disappearing Spoon: Kangaroo (and Pig and Monkey and Dog and Donkey) Courts The long, wacky, and surprisingly thought-provoking history of trying animals in human courts.
info_outline Murder, Fraud, Sabotage, Piracy, and Other Dastardly Deeds Perpetrated in the Name of Science 09/28/2021
Murder, Fraud, Sabotage, Piracy, and Other Dastardly Deeds Perpetrated in the Name of Science An interview with Sam Kean about his latest book, The Icepick Surgeon.
info_outline What the All Souls Trilogy Teaches Us about Alchemy, Family, and Knowledge Hierarchy 08/24/2021
What the All Souls Trilogy Teaches Us about Alchemy, Family, and Knowledge Hierarchy Distillations sat down with Jen Daine and Cait Parnell, the hosts of the All Souls podcast, Chamomile and Clove; art historian Stephenie McGucken; and medievalist actor, journalist, and author Sarah Durn to talk about the series’ alchemical roots, the material culture in the TV show, and how the book’s found-family theme mirrors the fandom.
info_outline Interview with Jeremiah McCall 08/10/2021
Interview with Jeremiah McCall Jeremiah McCall is a history teacher at Cincinnati Country Day School and the author of Gaming the Past: Using Video Games to Teach Secondary School. He talked to Distillations about what it's like to use video games in his history classes, the criteria he uses in choosing games, and why he likes his students to question the media they are consuming.
info_outline Learning History with Video Games 08/03/2021
Learning History with Video Games The pandemic made gamers out of many Americans, including our producer, Rigoberto Hernandez. He played a lot of historical video games and it got him thinking: can you learn history from video games even though they are obviously fiction.Throughout history there have been many moral panics about people consuming historical fiction and taking what they read and watch as fact, so how do video games stack up? It turns out that they can empower players in better ways than TV shows, films, and books.
info_outline Ladies Talking to Ladies about Ladies (in Science) 07/27/2021
Ladies Talking to Ladies about Ladies (in Science) Anna Reeser is a historian of technology and Laila McNeil is a historian of science. Together they co-founded and are editors-in-chief of Lady Science, an independent magazine about women, gender, history, and popular culture of science.
info_outline Interview with Colin Dickey 07/13/2021
Interview with Colin Dickey Ghost hunters on television all seem to have a common goal: to prove that ghosts are real using sophisticated, yet inexact technology. Colin Dickey, the author of Ghostland: An American History in Haunted Places, says this is not an accident. The relationship between technology and ghosthunters is as old as the telegraph. But Dickey is not interested in proving they are real; he is fascinated with what the ghost stories we tell reveal about our society.
info_outline Ghost Hunting in the 19th Century 07/06/2021
Ghost Hunting in the 19th Century The 19th century was a time of rapid technological leaps: the telegraph, the steam boat, the radio were invented during this century. But this era was also the peak of spiritualism: the belief that ghosts and spirits were real and could be communicated with after death. Seances were all the rage. People tried to talk to their dead loved ones, using Ouija boards and automatic writing. Although it might seem contradictory, it's not a coincidence that this was all happening at the same time.
info_outline We're Back! Distillations Summer Season Preview 06/15/2021
We're Back! Distillations Summer Season Preview This summer leave reality behind and join Distillations for an entire season about fantasy! We're talking vampires! Ghosts! Witches! And we promise, it all has to do with the history of science. Season launches on June 29.
info_outline The Disappearing Spoon: The Anatomy Riots 06/01/2021
The Disappearing Spoon: The Anatomy Riots In the 1700s human dissection was a big taboo—people feared that it would leave their bodies mangled on Judgment Day, when God would raise the dead. As a result, government officials banned most dissections. This led to some unintended consequences, most notably a shortage of bodies for anatomists to dissect. To meet the heightened demand, a new profession emerged: grave-robbers. These so-called resurrectionists dug up the bodies of poor people to sell to anatomists, which led to riots in the streets.
info_outline The Disappearing Spoon: When Mosquitoes Cured Insanity 05/18/2021
The Disappearing Spoon: When Mosquitoes Cured Insanity How an early 20th century doctor pitted one scourge (malaria) against another (syphilis).
info_outline The Death of the Lord God Bird 05/11/2021
The Death of the Lord God Bird The ivory-billed woodpecker is sometimes called the Lord God bird, a nickname it earned because that’s what people cried out the first time they ever saw one: “Lord God, what a bird.” Even though the last confirmed sighting was in the 1930s, birders have been claiming they have seen the Lord God bird throughout the years, turning it into a myth. The sad part is it didn’t need to be this way. And it’s all Hitler’s fault. As crazy as it sounds, the ivory-billed woodpecker was one of last victims of the Nazi war machine. Host: Senior Producer: Producer: Audio Engineer:
info_outline Disappearing spoon: Chewing it Over—and Over and Over and Over 05/04/2021
Disappearing spoon: Chewing it Over—and Over and Over and Over If Ted Talks were around in the early 1990s, Horace Fletcher would have given his fair share of them. Fletcher was a health reformer who thought people didn’t chew their food nearly enough. He believed that most swallowed food way too quickly. This had all sorts of detrimental health consequences, he said, including nasty bowel movements. So he over-chewed his food. He once chewed a green onion 722 times before he let himself swallow it.