Distillations Blog

The Distillations blog is the place for regular updates from the intersections of science, culture, and history.

A man holds a beaker containing a bright green liquid. On the desk in front of him is a number of scientific implements.
The Case of Continental Classroom
March 29, 2019

Before Bill Nye the Science Guy, there was Professor Harvey E. White of Continental Classroom.

A hand drops liquid from a dropper into a sugar lump on a spoon while a child sits in the background.
Book Club: The Story of the Polio Vaccine
March 15, 2019

Living in a world nearly free of polio, it’s difficult to imagine what it was like when almost every summer children fell ill, became paralyzed, and sometimes died from a disease people didn’t understand and couldn’t control.

Close-up view of valves, pipes, and fittings
Whose Knowledge Counts? Scientists with Cognitive Differences
February 15, 2019

Why emphasizing intellectual achievement and scientific “genius” harms scientists with intellectual disabilitiesand the rest of us.

Still from Where Are My Children: At the end of the film the Waltons are visited by the spectral images of their offspring, first as children and then as young adults.
Where Are My Children? Public Health in the Movies
February 01, 2019

The silent movie Where Are My Children? is more than a century old, but its central question—who “deserves” access to reproductive rights—still resonates today.

Handy Andy Junior Chemistry Lab, 1955.
What We’re Talking About
January 18, 2019

Science History Institute staff recommends articles and blog posts from around the web to add to your binge lists.

Jennifer Doudna gives the 2018 Ullyot lecture.
Book Club: Cracking Creation with Jennifer Doudna
December 14, 2018

CRISPR-Cas9 gene-editing technology is remaking the world. How do we manage its potential harms and benefits?

Jennifer Doudna gives the 2018 Ullyot lecture.
What We’re Talking About
November 30, 2018

Science History Institute staff recommends articles and blog posts from around the web to add to your binge lists.

Image of microscope from Robert Hooke's "Micrographia : or, Some physiological descriptions of minute bodies made by magnifying glasses," 1665.
Through the Lens of Disability
November 08, 2018

What possibilities might we be ignoring when we unquestioningly privilege sight as the primary pathway to knowledge about the natural world?

Panamanian postage stamp commemorating Alfred Nobel and the Nobel Prize
What We’re Talking About
October 26, 2018

Science History Institute staff recommends articles and blog posts from around the web to add to your binge lists.

Roger Eadley-Pryor takes a guided kayak tour of the Schuylkill River led by Drexel chemistry professor Pete DeCarlo and University of Pennsylvania environmental humanities professor Bethany Wiggin.
Imagining a Way Forward
October 12, 2018

In a time of social, political, and environmental uncertainty, how do we imagine the future?

Isaac Newton stamp
Book Club: Catching Criminals with Isaac Newton
September 28, 2018

Isaac Newton invented calculus, deciphered gravity, and authored two immortal scientific treatises. Did he also fight crime?

Plate No. 20 Poisonous Reptiles and Insects
What We’re Talking About
August 30, 2018

Science History Institute staff recommends articles and blog posts from around the web to add to your binge lists.

Helitrim trimming potentiometers on the moon
The Folly of the Martian Back-Up Plan
August 17, 2018

Why resources spent building a colony on the red planet would be a waste of money.

Book Club: Simultaneous Discovery and Darwin’s Ghosts
August 06, 2018

Does Darwin deserve the credit for the theory of evolution, knowing what we know now about his predecessors?

What We’re Talking About
July 20, 2018

Science History Institute staff recommends articles, videos, and blog posts from around the web to add to your summer binge lists.

WikiSpeaks: What It Means to Be a Wikipedian in Residence
July 06, 2018

Mary Mark Ockerbloom, the Science History Institute’s expert on all things Wikipedia, discusses the ways in which the site has changed and improved.

It’s Nothing New: Sexism in the Lab
June 22, 2018

Why the recent findings of the National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine are enlightening, even if they aren't surprising.

RHex marches up a dune in Pismo Beach, California, carrying a mechanical sensor that scrapes the dune’s surface to detect how much force is needed for the wind to pick up grains of sand.
Thinking on Your Feet—or with Them
June 08, 2018

Would you be able to walk, think, or react without a nervous system? University of Pennsylvania engineering student Sonia Roberts explores this question while building robots inspired by real animals.

Book Club: Frankenstein in the 21st Century
May 18, 2018

Frankenstein was unleashed on the literary world 200 years ago, but its message still has relevance to everything from gene editing to Facebook.

Age of Alchemy: Curator Elisabeth Berry Drago Discusses Exhibition Highlights and Myth Busting in Alchemy’s Golden Age
May 04, 2018

In the Science History Institute’s new exhibition Age of Alchemy, paintings, laboratory tools, and more showcase the alchemical quest to transform the human body and the natural world.

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