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Category: Distillations

Distillations #170 – Urban Agriculture

City dwellers across the country are picking up shovels and burying seeds, part of a burgeoning movement to bring fresh, local produce back to urban areas. But before you join their ranks, stop and check your soil. It might be flecked with dangerous lead. On today’s episode of Distillations we look at the challenges of urban agriculture and the innovative ways to solve them. First producer Charlie Mintz visits West Oakland to reveal how an EPA-funded program is leeching lead out of backyard gardens using hundreds of tons of discarded fishbones. Then we sit down with Graceful Gardens‘ Alice Edgerton and Fair Food Philadelphia‘s Alex Jones to learn about how to best make an urban garden grow.

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Distillations #169 – Neighborhood Preservation

In this episode of Distillations, From the Distillations website:

Majestic old buildings testify to the rich history of cities across the world. But why do some of these buildings seem unaged while others rot just blocks away? The answer, sometimes, is science. On today’s episode of Distillations we’re looking at the role of chemistry in neighborhood preservation. First, producer Alex Lewis shares the efforts of a Philadelphia-based congregation trying to save its crumbling church. Then we talk to the Delaware Valley Green Building Council‘s Heather Blakeslee about how architects and developers restore aging structures to live new and greener lives.


Photo by Alex Lewis.

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Distillations #168 – So Argon Walks Into a Bar…

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

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Distillations #167 – Cold War Chemistry

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.

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Distillations #166 – Alchemy After Dark

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. 

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Distillations #165 – In Good Taste

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.

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Distillations #164 – Bones

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.

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Distillations #163 – A Day in the Life: Night

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.

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