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Using stories from science’s past to understand our world
Individuals and things they’ve done, for better and for worse
A fighter pilot’s tragic flight into a nuclear explosion leads to the discovery of two elements.
We’ve taken some of our favorite stories of the year and put them in one place for your reading pleasure.
Depicting the everyman of the scientific enterprise.
In the 1920s a pioneering journalist summoned the might of American women to revive a Nobelist’s career.
In the 1930s a pride- and faith-fueled dispute between two Nobel Prize–winning physicists spilled onto the front page of the New York Times.
A lesson in humility begets a scientific revolution.
In the 1980s workers in an English peat bog started unearthing bodies, the apparent victims of violence.
Distillations talks to the 2019 Othmer Gold Medal winner about her work using nanotechnology to detect and treat disease.
Movies and television shows like to portray scientists as lone geniuses. But scientists with disabilities know the reality is much more complex.
Historian Ingrid Ockert makes a case for the spoken word.
Distillations talks to biochemist Jennifer Doudna about the discovery of CRISPR-Cas9, the tool’s promise, and dangers of its misuse.
How did a chemist from Philadelphia wind up a Soviet spy?
For centuries women have been looking at the stars despite earthly obstacles.
Why emphasizing intellectual achievement and scientific “genius” harms scientists with intellectual disabilities—and the rest of us.
What possibilities might we be ignoring when we unquestioningly privilege sight as the primary pathway to knowledge about the natural world?
Eleanor Roosevelt thanks a chemical engineering firm in Philadelphia for manufacturing water for the king and queen of England on their visit to the United States.
Does Darwin deserve the credit for the theory of evolution, knowing what we know now about his predecessors?
One war made him the most powerful man in science; the war that followed took that power away.
Through fame, controversy, and peril Josiah Wedgwood and Joseph Priestley’s bond endured.
What it means to be the chief curiosity correspondent at the Field Museum in Chicago.
How John Dalton’s early atomic theory led to the Science History Institute’s logo.
The story behind a rare work in our collection by the father of the periodic table.
The woman beside the father of chemistry.
William Herschel had a conflicted relationship with his biggest creation.
Author Laurie Wallmark on Ada Lovelace.
Escape is only the first challenge.
A painting bears the mark of Nazi brutality but also speaks to our capacity for kindness and bravery.
Computers have always been central to NASA’s accomplishments: they just used to be women.
How science fiction has influenced the lives and work of many STEM professionals.
The jogging craze of the 1970s required a change of equipment.
A discovery by Indian scientist and statesman Meghnad Saha revealed the nature of stars.
Filippo Marinetti thought he could change Italian society through its collective belly.
In Silicon Valley’s renegade days, a hardheaded Texan chased dreams of a flying car.
The first climate change believer.
An addition to CHF’s collections reveals the mark a mysterious American alchemist made on Isaac Newton and other early chemists.
Most people can’t name a single female scientist besides Marie Curie. We hope to change that.
Edward Robinson Squibb helped set the standard for medicines in the 19th century.
Deborah Harkness is a historian of science who also writes fantasy novels in which vampires, witches, alchemy, and other wondrous creations are found.
Focusing on learning the facts may impede real learning, argues chemist and education advocate Bruce Alberts. Read what else he has to say in our interview.
An unusual relic offers a fuller picture of a chemist’s life and work.
Inventor Charles Babbage drew inspiration from an unusual source for his analytical engine.
Alex Wellerstein introduces us to the strange world of nuclear secrecy.
Albert Edelfelt broke the rules when he painted his friend Louis Pasteur in the scientist’s natural element.
The forgotten life of the scoundrel who created modern concrete.
Despite embargoes, nationalistic rivalry, and mistrust, the Napoleonic Wars were a time when enemies shared their science, owing largely to the efforts of one man.
Many Soviet scientists have been forgotten, even in their own countries. Buried Glory digs up some of these scientists.
Nikola Tesla’s career epitomizes the scientist as showman.
Otto Wichterle’s creative solutions to working in a Communist state started a billion-dollar industry, but neither he nor his country benefited.
Scientists are known to be dedicated to accuracy. But sometimes, as in the case of Francesco Redi, a sense of humor can lead one astray.
Katharine Burr Blodgett was the first female scientist hired by General Electric. Her work was truly invisible, deliberately so.
The story of a man who wanted to make the United States a healthier place and the sometimes fuzzy line between science and quackery.
With 20 years as an NPR science correspondent, Joe Palca is one of the best science storytellers out there.
Harold Urey was a Nobel Prize–winning chemist, a successful explorer of Earth’s deep past, and a public figure. So why did Urey describe himself as a frightened man?
In space no one can hear ice scream! For more than 100 years scientists have been discovering and creating bizarre, exotic ices. Ices that can even burn a hole in you!
War left a lasting impression on early American chemist James Woodhouse. For one thing, it showed him that doctors needed a proper understanding of chemistry to save lives.
Many scientists devised periodic systems in the 1860s, but Dmitri Mendeleev is today recognized as the father of the periodic table. How did this Russian provincial come to possess one of the most famous names in science?
In 1667 Margaret Cavendish was the first woman allowed to visit the all-male bastion of the Royal Society, a newly formed scientific society. Who was this woman?
Regina Lee Blaszczyk reviews Nicholas de Monchaux’s Spacesuit: Fashioning Apollo.
Jābir ibn Hayyan, whose name is inextricably bound to the foundations of alchemy, is a man of mystery.
On May 1, 1915, Clara Immerwahr Haber sat down at her desk to write farewell letters to friends and family.
Michael Gordin reviews Mary Jo Nye’s Michael Polanyi and His Generation.
The day Paul Lauterbur brought his Nobel medal to an elementary school.
Joseph Black, one of the first to realize that air was composed of many gases, isolated carbon dioxide, discovered latent heat, and contributed to the Industrial Revolution and the intellectual life of the Scottish Enlightenment.
The feud between William Crookes and Claude-Auguste Lamy over the newly discovered element thallium rested on the very definition of discovery.
For more than 30 years chemist James Curtis Booth successfully oversaw quality and minimized waste at the U.S. Mint. Then three bars of silver bullion disappeared.
At the end of World War II chemist Charles Phelps Smyth chased down German nuclear scientists and the equipment they left behind.
A 1904 caricature from Vanity Fair is a striking example of the role images played in creating the Marie Curie myth.
Jennifer Dionisio reviews Lauren Redniss’s Radioactive: Marie and Pierre Curie—A Tale of Love and Fallout.
Charles Herty’s vision of a self-reliant America kicked off the American chemical industry. He traveled the United States championing a national approach to chemistry, calling on American businesses, government, and universities.
In 1959, only two years after getting his PhD, future Nobel laureate Marshall Nirenberg proposed to probe the genetic code. The only problem? He had no experience in the two fields at the forefront of this investigation.
In the so-called Hamel Catastrophe of 1820, a scientific expedition lost three local guides after the entire party fell 1,200 feet in an avalanche.
In this episode we learn about lesser-known women in the sciences.
In this episode, we look at a couple of true stories of forensic scientists.
In honor of Black History Month, we reveal the lesser known accomplishments of George Washington Carver.
Michael Bycroft reviews Michael Hunter’s recent biography of Robert Boyle.
Susan Solomon has led expeditions in Antarctica, proposed the now-accepted theory about the role of chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) in creating the ozone hole over Antarctica, received the National Medal of Science, and shared the Nobel Peace Prize.
David Sarnoff wanted to be a journalist; instead he created commercial broadcasting and helped kick off the color revolution in television.
Chemist John William Draper took the first photographs of the moon and brought science into history.
Brothers William and Lawrence Knox discovered that earning PhDs in chemistry was not enough to overcome discrimination. World War II opened doors to a wider chemical world, but racism continued to shadow their lives.
When Jane Marcet wrote Conversations on Chemistry, she had little idea it would introduce Michael Faraday into the world of science.
What linked Nobel laureate William Ramsay and famed illustrator Leslie Ward?
Scientific discoveries can be dramatic tales of unexpected adventure. They can also be personal explorations of intuition and faith.
What do Isaac Newton, yeast, and Harold Urey have in common? They’re all subjects of the Institute fellows.
Color by numbers—no problem, thanks to Albert H. Munsell, who pioneered methods for color comparison.
Svante Arrhenius was one of the founders of modern physical chemistry. His later cosmological work, especially on panspermia, pushed him beyond the scientific limits of many of his colleagues.
Georgina Ferry paints a personal portrait of the Nobel Prize–winning crystallographer.
Frank A. J. L. James reviews William H. Brock’s William Crookes (1832–1919) and the Commercialization of Science.
We know that plants are living organisms, but rarely do we experience them as such. The images in this photo essay bridge the gap between human perception and plant life, showing plants as they move and grow.
Mary Jo Nye reviews Charles Thorpe’s Oppenheimer: The Tragic Intellect.
Working his way up from humble beginnings, Humphry Davy took England by storm, traveling among the scientific and literary elite while dazzling the public with his groundbreaking experiments.
Breaking through the glass ceiling can be tough, especially when you are a woman in a traditionally male-dominated field.
With the curiosity of a scientist and the personal motivation of having lost family members to cancer and bacterial infection, Elion fulfilled a vital role in the fight against disease.
Rudolph Pariser’s early life and career were shaped by world wars and other international events.