Issue Archive

Summer 2018

Read how history repeats itself in the current opioid epidemic. Discover how a gruesome accident led to the secrets of digestion. Then sit down with a beer and drink up some fermented history, from the creation of the first true antibiotic to the engineered microbes that produce drugs for rare afflictions. Hold your nose as you dive into 19th-century New York and find out the lengths to which residents went to reduce the smells of their city. And last but not least, get a good licking from some friendly foxes whose history tells us much about the nature of domestication.

Spring 2018

What would you give up for a second chance? In this issue sociologist Joseph Klett writes about tattoos and what their wearers will do to get rid of them. Join sociologist Ramya Rajagopalan as she takes us on the bloody journey of a rat poison turned medicine. Then find out how art connects two British luminaries: Nobel laureate Dorothy Hodgkin and Winston Churchill. And finally, take the oldest book in your library, open it, and sniff before reading about the people who smell books.

Fall 2017

In this issue we invite you to climb into what was once the world’s biggest telescope and ponder life on other planets. Then wonder at the sounds made by a Stradivarius violin before investigating Cold War nuclear sites that have become tourist destinations. Finally, we get heavy with green concrete and the people who make it.

Summer 2017

Avast, me hearties! Join an 18th-century naval expedition, and discover just how bad scurvy could get. Then jump into a story about some curious frogs that could be used to tell when women were pregnant. Try out some 19th-century poisoned candy, and then speed into the 21st century for a taste of a controversial condiment. And in our review section ponder the meaning of time, and learn about the women who got satellites to where they needed to go in space. 

Spring 2017

Discover the power of clothing to change women’s lives. Dive into the origins of a popular breakfast food and the rise of nutrition science. Find out why Richard Nixon became the environmental president. Meet the Mars rovers, whose story shows the ways humans can get attached to machines. Follow the highs and lows of a life in science. And see what happens when a supposed cure is actually a poison.

Winter 2017

In this issue we ask whether a biotech company can help save the rhino from extinction and make money at the same time. We dig up some forgotten history about a notorious chemical, DDT. And we examine another chemical, one that may offer hope to people with spinal-cord injuries. We wonder if it’s possible for a technology to work too well and if there is any virtue in a forgotten technology people sniffed at.

Fall 2016

Visit both the future and the past in this issue. Explore what a good life might look like in a postcarbon future, and look back to an early 20th-century Italian poet who imagined a strange future for food. Drop in on the early pop art scene in Britain and discover the problems artists faced in incorporating new synthetic materials into their work. And then there’s Ken Shoulders, a man who once envisioned a technological future filled with flying cars, drones, and limitless energy. 

Summer 2016

In this issue we find out where we are when it comes to creating true artificial intelligence; wonder about some strange chemistry inside far-away planets; discover that information overload is an old, old problem; trace scientific thinking about climate change back to a 19th-century Swede; and uncover the most important American scientist of the 17th century. Oh, and find out how Americans and Soviets, while in pursuit of their own national interests, helped create a global medical triumph.

Spring 2016

Dive into the history of synthetic biology and learn why the ancient Greeks and Romans thought they could create life. Then return to the 21st century and the aging nuclear weapons that now require life support. Take a close look at a 19th-century cartoon highlighting urbanites’ fears of adulterated food. Find out why some dwarfs in Ecuador are almost immune to cancer and why chemistry clubs were once seen as a solution to teenage delinquency.

Winter 2015

In the winter issue of Distillations, we search for the truth in truth serums, visit Brooklyn’s Gowanus Canal, a Superfund site being embraced by some for its toxicity, recount the long search for diabetes cure, explore the cultural forces behind the country’s methamphetamine epidemic, and look at how identity politics often intersect uncomfortably with science.

Fall 2015

Not that long ago a health fad swept the nation. Discover the purported power of yeast to cure almost any health problem and learn why health fads are still with us. Then enter the strange world of nuclear secrets and find out what a historian of secrecy actually does. Then take a trip to Leominster, Massachusetts, site of America’s early plastics revolution. And we give you proof that lead balloons do fly.

Summer 2015

Visit a time when the nuclear family, postwar advertising, and chemistry were tightly entwined. Then bounce through the history of Silly Putty before discovering Louis Pasteur’s artistic side. Settle down with the whiskey-soaked past of one of the first LCD screens. And discover Ambler, the town asbestos built, and find out what happened when the asbestos went away.

Spring 2015

One hundred years ago this spring, chemical weapons were first used in World War I. Discover the motivations of Fritz Haber, one of the prime movers in chemical warfare, and learn how war reshaped civilian science. Then jump into the past and the future as we take a look at 19th- and 20th-century futurists and their ideas about what we’d be eating now. Steak tablets, anyone? Discover how the atom bomb influenced women’s fashions in the 1950s. And, finally, a story of deadly medicine and the Ku Klux Klan.

Fall 2014/Winter 2015

In this final issue of Chemical Heritage you’ll discover the many ways in which death can be made useful. Find out why someone would want to collect old pesticide tins, and learn what caused an epidemic of crumbing clothes in 1920s New York. As always, we offer treasures from CHF’s collections, book reviews, and more.

Summer 2014

Find out how science journalism became so politicized and why people are talking about cloning the extinct mammoth. Dive into some old crime novels, and discover how fiction shaped public perceptions of forensic science. Learn what atoms have to do with peace, and discover the pleasures and pains of a new food fashion.

Spring 2014

Discover how French scientists made the first synthetic jewels. Find out why margarine is yellow and how it was once used to break the law. Learn the essential role played by a guinea pig in discovering an element and why Katherine Burr Blodgett’s research was invisible. Explore the extraordinary history of the atom bomb project through words and images.

Fall 2013/Winter 2014

In this issue you’ll find some delicious (and not so delicious) stories from the history of food. Discover how one man’s fear drove him to make ground-breaking discoveries about Earth’s history. Find out what whales have to do with outer space. Learn why one of the great 19th-century German chemists boiled cattle down into brown goo (and why people lined up to eat the stuff).

Summer 2013

In this issue we explore the history of poison ivy, a despised plant with, perhaps, some redeeming qualities. We delve into CHF’s image archives to examine the history of the Hercules Powder Company, which went from making explosives to building rockets. And we look at the parallel lives of Dmitri Mendeleev and Julius Lothar Meyer to figure out why one is a household name and the other is now mostly forgotten.

Spring 2013

In this issue we explore the environmental toll of uranium mining on the Navajo lands and people. We duck back into the 19th century to reexamine the forensic evidence in a famous trial and find that deciding guilt or innocence is trickier than it looks. And we take a look at the life of paint innovator, art detective, and all-around Renaissance man Maximilian Toch.

Fall 2012/Winter 2013

Celebrate the 25th anniversary of CHF’s Beckman Center for the History of Chemistry with an issue written entirely by or about Beckman fellows and their research: from chemistry under communism to the history of alchemy to the koshering of coke.

Summer 2012

Take in the glow with the story of neon, its enthusiasts, and its symbolism. Bulk up on history with a look at the vitamin’s earliest days and its continued controversy. Explore a tiny mine high in the Andes that held a miracle metal.

Spring 2012

Be a kid again with chemistry comic books from the 1950s, which featured real-life superheroes Antoine Lavoisier and Marie Curie. Trace the wax and wane—and wax—of amphetamine use and acceptance in the United States. Follow the trail of a mysterious illness and the families and doctors that searched for a cure, and explore a new column by science writer Sam Kean.

Fall 2011/Winter 2012

Go to the movies—the first ones—with a history of celluloid and its cultural cache. Visit a time when chemistry was a drawing attraction on the lecture circuit and Humphry Davy its star. Explore the little-known story of Japanese-American chemists in America’s World War II internment camps, and the treatment they received there.

Summer 2011

Mark the 150th anniversary of the Civil War’s beginnings by exploring the massive wartime growth of the pharmacology industry. Jump forward a few decades to rapidly urbanizing New York, all the pollution that came with it, and the chemist assigned to find the culprits. Reflect on the controversial status of fluoride in the United States, meet Marie Curie, and learn the real value of silverware.

Spring 2011

Slip into the history of anesthesia, and come to with calorie counting’s scientific background. Look for the marks of Leonardo da Vinci in a recently discovered portrait. Continue the Italian journey with a review of the Museo Galileo in Florence. Rise to the occasion with the history of baking soda, and wonder at the intersection of chemistry and craft as artists tackle the periodic table.

Fall 2010

Travel back in time to uncover the real history of absinthe. Discover the connection between 1950s Soviet poster art and chemistry. Follow a particular plant sap across oceans as it links the world together in a 19th-century version of the Internet. Dip into a famous poisoning trial, find out why art and science make perfect bedfellows, and check out the comic-book history of medicine.

Summer 2010

Jump into the hot seat this issue with climate engineering. Focus on the strange and beautiful chemistry of early photography. And finally, step into the lives of two African American brothers who, despite suffering the effects of racism, made contributions to chemistry.

Spring 2010

This issue includes a look at the evolution of kids’ chemistry sets, the rise and fall of saccharin, and how foul-tasting cod-liver oil became a popular panacea in the late 19th century.

Fall 2009

From ancient underground oceans to spies (and their invisible ink) and on to 17th-century female pharmacists, chemistry goes everywhere.

Summer 2009

Drugs, energy, and lots of hot air. Check out the 2,000-year history of aspirin. Find out about the difficulties facing alternative energy. And discover the joys of balloonomania as 18th-century aeronauts took to the skies in hot-air and hydrogen powered balloons.

Spring 2009

It’s all about issues, and plants. A 1828 murder trial revolving around arsenic raised early questions about scientific testimony. Pasteurization, developed 150 years ago, is still in the hot seat. And finally, a long, slow look at plants in motion.

Winter 2008−2009

This issue moves from the mundane to the electrifying, from daily life on a Manhattan Project site to one of the 19th century's scientific superstars, Humphry Davy. And don't forget to taste the results of research on what makes a wine great.

Fall 2008

Whether it’s nylon’s role in World War II or the growth of American technological dominance in chemical engineering, this issue tackles chemistry’s role in making modernity.

Summer 2008

Before he discovered oxygen, chemist Joseph Priestley invented the first fizzy drink as a medicine for poor people. Today green chemistry reduces the waste byproducts in the making of medicines.

Spring 2008

This issue previews Making Modernity, the permanent exhibit of CHF’s new museum, presents an introduction to chemistry’s place in the history of science, and takes a look at Lavoisier’s lab as a work of art.

Winter 2007−2008

Learn about the long history of aluminum, which was once a metal considered more valuable than gold. Follow art restoration efforts following Hurricane Katrina. And finally, meet Gertrude Elion—a prolific biochemist on a personal mission.

Fall 2007

The DuPont color revolution, the rise of chemically amplified photoresists, arabic alchemy, and more. . .