Distillations magazine

Unexpected Stories from Science’s Past

Inventions & Discoveries

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

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.

Inventions & Discoveries

Positive Effect

Meet J. J. Thomson, who disproved Einstein’s dictum that the man “who has not made his great contribution to science before the age of thirty will never do so.”

Inventions & Discoveries

Cellophane Comes to Buffalo

Jacques Brandenberger spent years perfecting a transparent, moisture-repellent film he named cellophane.

Inventions & Discoveries

Let It Bleed

Joseph E. Snodgrass’s poetry memorably reflected the public faith in bloodletting as medical treatment.

Old photograph of a worn cabin in arid mountains
Inventions & Discoveries

The Rocks at the Top of the World

Vanadium was a rare metal, but for 100 years after its first discovery in 1801 no one cared—until a chemist discovered it strengthened steel.

Leyden Jar Battery
Inventions & Discoveries

Leyden Jar Battery

Electricity and Enlightenment go together like Benjamin Franklin and 100-dollar bills.

Inventions & Discoveries

On the Scent: The Discovery of PKU

A mother’s dogged search for the cause of her babies’ mental decline led to the discovery of a new disease.

Inventions & Discoveries

Making the Process

By 1790 chemistry was the up-and-coming science. The products of chemistry—industrially useful salts, acids, and alkalis—would soon be measured not by the ounce (or the gram) but by the ton.

Joseph Black
Inventions & Discoveries

That Beautiful Theory

Joseph Black, one of the first to realize that air was composed of many gases, isolated carbon dioxide, and discovered latent heat.

Inventions & Discoveries

The Thin Green Line

The feud between William Crookes and Claude-Auguste Lamy over the newly discovered element thallium rested on the very definition of discovery.

Inventions & Discoveries

Cracking Down on Crude Oil

Faced with the prospect of a world without oil, French engineer Eugene Jules Houdry turned low-grade coal into gasoline.

Inventions & Discoveries

Breaking the Code

Two years after getting his PhD, future Nobel Prize winner Marshall Nirenberg set out to probe the genetic code despite having no experience in the fields at the forefront of this work.

Inventions & Discoveries

Communicating Underwater

Gutta percha, a natural plastic found in tree sap, allowed the expansion of the 19th century’s global communications network.

Inventions & Discoveries

Setting the Table

In the 19th century a young Italian outside the chemistry mainstream played a part in the creation of the first periodic table.

David Sarnoff
Inventions & Discoveries

The General

David Sarnoff wanted to be a journalist; instead he created commercial broadcasting and helped kick off the color revolution in television.

Inventions & Discoveries

A First Lady of Chemistry

Mildred Cohn fought prejudice to become a successful Jewish female chemist in an less-than-welcoming world.

Inventions & Discoveries

Science by the Scoop

The science behind a cool, refreshing treat—ice cream.

Inventions & Discoveries

Silver and Sunlight

In the early 19th century people dreamed of using light to paint permanent images.