Audio Producer | Journalist
We get punny on this episode of Distillations. From the website:
So Argon walks into a bar. The bartender says, “We don’t serve noble gases here.” Argon doesn’t react.
Buh-dum-dum-ching! On today’s episode of Distillations we’re breaking out our best chemistry jokes to celebrate the sillier side of science. First, producer Daisy Rosario hits the comedy circuit to reveal how scientists like Neil deGrasse Tyson are mixing education and entertainment on stage. Then CHF Fellow Deanna Day talks to historian Rebecca Onion about how the internet has cultivated a new generation of nerds and why it matters.
Image courtesy of snorgtees.com.
The latest episode Distillations is about how the Soviets and the US used science as a weapon during the Cold War. It was especially fun to have my friend and founding Executive Producer Audra Wolfe back in the studio. From the Distillations website:
For decades the United States and the Soviet Union were locked in battle; two superpowers with very different visions of how the world should work. Though both sides possessed nuclear bombs, each had another vital weapon in their arsenals: SCIENCE. On today’s show CHF’s Haas Postdoctoral Fellow Mat Savelli sits down with Distillations‘ founding executive producer Audra Wolfe to discuss how the science-tinged war for hearts and minds was waged. They also discuss her new book Competing with the Soviets: Science, Technology, and the State in Cold War America. Then we dip into CHF’s oral history archives to learn how the life of Intel co-founder Leslie Vadasz was shaped by the Hungarian Revolution in 1956, when students launched a revolt against Soviet rule.
Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.
From the Distillations website:
Alchemists are known for equally dreamy and practical pursuits—trying to turn base metals into gold and achieve immortality while also conducting the experiments that would lay the groundwork for modern chemistry. But it turns out the alchemists had another trick up their sleeves: speaking the language of love—and lust. In this episode we sit down with historian Joel Klein to find out why so many alchemy texts are rife with blush-inducing romantic and sexual metaphors. Then CHF’s James Voelkel recites some of our favorite steamy passages.
Image from Symbola Aureae Mensae, by Michael Maier, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons. Also available in CHF’s collections.
From the Distillations website:
Little known fact: we have taste buds all over our bodies, not just our tongues. Another surprise? Our taste buds might play a role in more than just our processing of taste. On today’s show producer Mary Harris visits the Monell Chemical Senses Center and Beverly Tepper‘s Sensory Evaluation Lab at Rutgers University to find out if she is one of the lucky few whose super-taster status affords them better health. Then we welcome Nadia Berenstein to the studio to discuss her research on the early days of synthetic flavor development. She reveals how a cadre of early flavorists changed our very perception of familiar flavors like pineapple.
1950s ad from the Givaudan Flavorist. Image courtesy of the Society of Flavor Chemists Library at Monell Chemical Senses Center.
On this episode of Distillations, sound artist extraordinaire Diane Hope shares a story about an innovative technology that could provide early detection of osteoporosis. Then, a conversation with Mütter Museum curator Anna Dhody about a famous skeleton in their collection. It belongs to Harry Eastlack, who suffered from a rare and devastating disorder known as stone man syndrome, which causes the body’s connective tissue to turn into bone when damaged. A similar problem has been affecting modern military troops.
Image of the skeleton of Harry Eastlack, whose disease-ravaged bones are on display at Philadelphia’s Mütter Museum. Image courtesy of Evi Numen, 2011, for the Mütter Museum of The College of Physicians of Philadelphia.
In this third and final episode of Distillations‘ Day in the Life series, we explore the chemistry of night. First, we have one more visit with biochemist Joe Rucker to investigate how common sleep aids help to remedy insomnia. Then producer Louisa Jonas shares how a two-week stay under Alaska’s midnight sun helped her understand her night owl tendencies.
Image of the midnight sun by Louisa Jonas.
This is part two of Distillations three-part series A Day in the Life, which examines the chemistry of morning, noon, and night. In this episode, biochemist Joe Rucker explains some of the chemicals commonly found in our food (xanthum gum?). Then reporter Gretchen Cuda Kroen reveals why fructose and other sweeteners (even the supposedly healthy ones) are making us sick.
Image courtesy of Flickr user ilovememphis.
This is first installment of Distillations‘ new three-part series A Day in the Life: Morning, Noon, and Night. At the top of each show, biochemist Joe Rucker breaks down the chemistry of some of the products we use every day. In the Morning show, Joe explains sodium lauryl sulfate – a chemical that shows up in tons of bathroom products. Then, I make a rare appearance as a Distillations reporter with a story about fluoride and the debate that’s been surrounding it for more than 60 years.
Image courtesy of Flickr user sean dreilinger.
For this episode of Distillations we dive into CHF’s vast oral history archive. Producer Amy Kraft digs through hours of interviews with Dupont’s Roy Plunkett and Malcolm Renfrew to bring us the history of Teflon, the now ubiquitous super material. Then, an interview with the always charming Bob Kenworthy, who met Plunkett, and later worked as a marketer of Teflon. But it’s not all sunshine and roses – Bob is very familiar with the dangers of Teflon and elucidates here.
Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons user trozzolo.
At Distillations, we love science writer Sam Kean. He was on our show in 2010 to talk about his book The Disappearing Spoon: And Other True Tales of Madness, Love, and the History of the World from the Periodic Table of the Elements. And we invited him back to talk about his new book: The Violinist’s Thumb: And Other Lost Tales of Love, War, and Genius, as Written by Our Genetic Code. This time he reveals the quirky—and sometimes crazy—history of human understanding of our DNA.
In this episode of Distillations, a conversation with two experts on alchemy: CHF’s rare book curator James Voelkel, who created CHF’s new exhibit The Alchemical Quest, and his colleague and old friend Lawrence Principe, author of The Secrets of Alchemy. Principe recreates alchemical experiments to see what the alchemists saw – so cool!
Image: In Hieronymus Brunschwig’s Liber de arte Distillandi . . . (Strasbourg, 1512) two figures work with one of alchemy’s more grounded practices: distillation. From the Donald and Mildred Othmer Collection, CHF. Photo by Will Brown.
In this episode of Distillations we look at the history of smog. Today, of course, we recognize smog as the thick, toxic air pollution that often chokes the skies in places like Los Angeles and Beijing. So it’s hard to believe that smog was once looked at as a sign of progress—visual proof that the gears of industry were churning for a more prosperous future. First, we learn about a painting in CHF’s museum (shown here) commissioned to show the beauty of industrial smokestacks. Then Daniel Tkacik and Ellis Robinson travel to Donora, Pennsylvania, where, in 1948, a deadly smog descended for four days. The aftermath of that event helped kickstart the environmental regulations that ultimately lead to the Clean Air Act.
Arthur Henry Knighton’s Caustic Pot House Stacks, “A” Power Stack, “A” Pump Station, and “A” Evaporator Building. Image courtesy of the Herbert H. and Grace A. Dow Foundation. On view in CHF’s museum.
My four-year-old son’s favorite new phrase – don’t yuck my yum – is a perfect description of this episode of Distillations, though there are few who would find body cheese truly tasteful. Reporter Lindsay Patterson visits South by South Swab – a SXSW event in which a biologist and smell researcher create personalized cheeses from strains of human bacteria. It’s literal toe cheese. (Gag.) Then, when your stomach settles, Jacqueline Boytim explains why the thought of body cheese can make you nauseous without having to taste the stuff.
In this episode of Distillations, we dive into the murky depths to explore the chemistry of shipwrecks. First, a feature about an Australian marine chemist produced by the amazingly talented scientist turned sound recordist Diane Hope. Then, an historical overview of how many-thousand-year-old wrecks can provide a glimpse into ancient civilizations. Lots of fun music in this one.
Original illustration by Anthony Anthony. Reproduction courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.
I have fallen in love with the subject of our first piece in this show – John Mainstone, the guardian of the pitch drop experiment – the longest running science demonstration in the world. Michael Rhee has that story from Australia. And if you’ve got a lot of time on your hands, you can watch the pitch drop experiment in real time here. Also in this episode, producer Stephanie Coleman breaks down the lightning-quick chemistry inside an airbag. Bang!
If you, too, can’t get enough of John Mainstone, check out this video produced by our reporter, Michael Rhee.
And here’s part 2 of our ‘best of” show – season 5. (Wow – I can’t believe we’ve been doing this for 5 years!) First, producer Andrew Stelzer uncovers how researchers are attempting to contact extraterrestrial beings from the show Is Anybody Out There? Then, Distillations’ assistant producer Anne Fredrickson pulls out her cello for an investigation of Stradivari’s instruments. Is there any science behind their superiority? This originally aired on the episode Good Vibrations. All new shows (and new theme music – yay!) two weeks from now.
It’s our annual “best of” shows this month, when we highlight our favorite segments from the past year. First, producer Diane Hope created this lush sound portrait for the Our Chemical Landscape series. The Wild reveals how animals communicate in harsh climates using chemistry. Next, CHF’s Bob Kenworthy explains how an old manufacturing town in Pennsylvania is attempting to clean up its tainted land from our Asbestos show.
And the trifecta is complete – this is Distillations final episode of our three-part series Blood, Sweat, and Tears. In this show, reporter Douglas Smith talks to a friend who can’t make tears. Then, a segment on the excessive tearing caused by onions, and how one scientist is trying to bioengineer a no-cry version.
Distillations second installment of Blood, Sweat, and Tears is ripe with great information about sweat. (Get it? HA!) First, our assistant producer Anne Fredrickson has a thoroughly entertaining segment on the history of deodorants, complete with some hilarious archival footage. Then reporter Gretchen Cuda Kroen explains how researchers are using sweat to analyze both the physical and mental health of their patients.
This marks the first installment of Distillations‘ new three-part series Blood, Sweat, and Tears, an exploration of our vital fluids. First, we learn how a series of discoveries in the early 17th century led to our modern understanding of the circulatory system. Then, producer Hannah Hoag explains how the athlete biological passport will help catch blood dopers at the Olympic Games in London.
And finally, this series comes with video!! Producer Josh Kurz put together this freakin’ awesome short about the function of hemoglobin in the body. I can’t wait to see what he comes up with for sweat and tears!
Distillations heads across the pond for tea time! First, UK producer Nina Perry brings her own china tea set to Loughborough University where a chemical engineer explains the science behind the perfect cuppa. Then, producer Rachel Dornhelm explains Marmite, a controversial condiment with unexpected health benefits.
Image courtesy of Flickr user andrewasmith.
PS: The facebook conversation requesting creative phrases to describe the taste of marmite was pretty entertaining.
It’s springtime and Distillations has babies on the brain. But we’re not oohing and aahing over these babes – we’re onto the games of the little parasites. First, Sabiha Khan shares the history of the breast vs. bottle debate. Did you know that the guy who first came up with infant formula is the same guy who “invented” marmite?! (More on that in our next show.) Then Audrey Quinn explains the many pregnancy hormones that can wreak havoc on a mother’s body, and the one that makes it all worthwhile.
Image of my little parasite at one month. He makes a quick cameo in the show
Just looking at this picture makes my lungs seize up; I am SO allergic to cats. On this episode of Distillations, we examine the science of allergies. First we look at the development of hypoallergenic pets. Then producer Gretchen Kuda Croen visits the first ever dust library – a collection of individual dust particles that could help health experts determine what components in the air are likely to make us sick.
Image courtesy of Flickr user admiller.
On this episode of Distillations, we examine asbestos. Once heralded as an ideal building material — light, cheap, and heat resistant — asbestos is now recognized as a major health hazard. Remediating asbestos-laden buildings is a time consuming and costly venture, so thousands of buildings sit vacant in abandoned lots throughout the country. Bob Kenworthy tells us about one of these waste sites in Ambler, PA. Then producer Larkin Page-Jacobs brings us to Pittsburgh, PA, where an architectural wonder of a school building sits crumbling.
Image courtesy of Wikimedia.
On this episode of Distillations, we tackle Mass Spectrometry – a technology that’s hard to explain and even harder to say. (Go ahead, try it!) First we learn about some of its modern uses – like newborn genetic screening and testing for steroids. Then we dip into the CHF oral history archives to hear a portion of an interview with mass spec pioneer Alfred Nier – who worked on the instrument during the Manhattan Project and beyond. And if you still haven’t gotten your fill of mass spec, visit CHF’s new online exhibit.