Distillations magazine

Unexpected Stories from Science’s Past

Inventions & Discoveries

The tools and technology that help us understand and change the world

Fiberglas was invented by accident at Corning Glass in the early 1930s. Fiberglas and its competitors helped insulate 1950s homes, with their open floor plans.
Inventions & Discoveries

In the Pink

Winter’s coming, so wrap up and discover the history of home insulation.

Nikola Tesla sitting under a machine shooting lightening
Inventions & Discoveries

The Electrical Wizard

Nikola Tesla’s career epitomizes the scientist as showman.

Inventions & Discoveries

The DDT Collector

In the 1980s Phil Allegretti found an unusual hobby. His collection of old DDT cans, sprayers, and diffusers tells the story of our contradictory approach to pesticides.

Eugene Pfizenmayer (left) excavating a mammoth carcass on the banks of the Berezovka River in Siberia, ca. 1901. (Courtesy of Smithsonian Institution)
Inventions & Discoveries

Mammoth Undertaking

Can scientists bring the woolly mammoth back from extinction? And should they?

Inventions & Discoveries

Tiny Productions

Sometimes scientific discovery requires an unusual tool.

Color illustrations of a donut-shaped space colony
Inventions & Discoveries

A Future without Limits

For decades serious people have tried to turn the stuff of science fiction—space colonies, self-replicating machines, and solar sails—into scientific reality.

Harvard Cyclotron
Inventions & Discoveries

Accelerating Oncology

How a machine used to create atom bombs became a tool for healing.

Inventions & Discoveries

Harold C. Urey: Science, Religion, and Cold War Chemistry

What most frightened the Nobel Prize–winning chemist and explorer of Earth’s deep past?

Inventions & Discoveries

Whales in Space

Whale oil has been used in soap, explosives, and even margarine. Has it also fueled space exploration?

Inventions & Discoveries

Peak Phosphorus?

What does a world short on phosphorous look like?

Inventions & Discoveries

Processed: Food Science and the Modern Meal

The early 20th century was an especially rich time for creating ways to process and preserve food.

Liebig’s Extract of Meat Company began producing trading cards in 1872.
Inventions & Discoveries

Where’s the Beef?

Mix a 19th-century chemist with a South American roader builder. Add cows and boil.

Inventions & Discoveries

Boom Times

Follow the birth, life, and demise of the Hercules Powder Company, which once dominated the explosives industry in the United States.

Zenith Royal M transistor hearing aid
Inventions & Discoveries

Sound Waves

In the 1950s hearing aids shrank from the size of a cigarette packet to the size of a lighter. The secret behind this shrinkage? The mighty transistor.

Inventions & Discoveries

Wild Ice

For more than 100 years scientists have been discovering and creating bizarre, exotic ices. Ices that can even burn a hole in you!

Inventions & Discoveries

An Element of Order

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?

Illustration depicting an early 19th-century London street scene with citizens commenting on the recent invention of gas-lighting.
Inventions & Discoveries

Bright Light

Coal fueled the cities of the Industrial Revolution. But coal did far more than power steam engines and heat homes.

Inventions & Discoveries

Dirty Business

Wars are often fought over resources, but as far as we know only one war has ever been fought over fertilizer.