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    Chocolate Day continues and takes an especially delicious turn with this circa 1915 Ghirardelli recipe book. 

    Pamphlet 2010.400, in Hagley’s Published Collections

    (via hagleyvault)

    NASA vs Amtrak vs the National Park Service


    Space tourism is still a ways off, but NASA, everybody’s favorite government agency, released some pretty sweet posters for destinations you’ll (hopefully!) be able to visit someday. 


    Turns out, they’re not the only agency with some pretty rad graphic design. Here’s one of Amtrak’s iconic rail lines. 


    And this poster for Yellowstone National Park, from 1938. 


    Although NASA claims there might be a few more geysers to see on Enceladus


    Or maybe take a trip closer to home.


    Or go visit the histroic Sequoia National Park. This poster is from the early 40′s. 


    For the history buff, see some of NASA’s historic sites, on Mars!


    But even NASA knows, there’s only one Earth, “Your Oasis in Space.” 


    See the full NASA collection over at their website. 


    Distillations Podcast: DDT, The Britney Spears of Chemicals

    Americans have had a long, complicated relationship with the pesticide DDT, or dichloro-diphenyl-trichloroethane, if you want to get fancy. First we loved it, then we hated it, then we realized it might not be as bad as we thought. But we’ll never restore it to its former glory. And couldn’t you say the same about America’s once-favorite pop star?

    We had a hunch that the usual narrative about DDT’s rise and fall left a few things out, so we talked to historian and CHF fellow Elena Conis. She has been discovering little-known pieces of this story one dusty letter at a time.

    But first our associate producer Rigoberto Hernandez checks out some of CHF’s own DDT cans—that’s right, we have a DDT collection—and talks to the retired exterminator who donated them.

    By Mariel Carr




    Harvard’s Colorful Library Filled With 2,500 Pigments Collected form Around the World




    Today’s story of science at play comes from Alan Veith! His career seems to have really taken off, after an early connection with a chemistry set… and some mail order additives. Here he shares the many places that playing with science took him through the years…

    From my chemistry set at age 12 (1938) I graduated to more potent chemicals (HCl, H2SO4, NaOH) obtained by U.S. Mail from a supplier in Hagerstown, Maryland— something that I know would not be possible today! But as a young teenager, I had already learned how to handle these chemicals and had no problems.

    After service in World War II, I majored in physical chemistry at the University of Kentucky. In 1949 I joined the B.F. Goodrich Company for a career in rubber-industry R&D. I retired in 1991 as a senior research fellow with 35 published scientific papers. I had a parallel secondary career in International Organization for Standardization (ISO) work in rubber technology from 1970 to 2005.

    Have a story of your own to share? Drop us a line!

    Image: Severed fork ends with prongs resculpted into the form of hands giving you “the finger,” discovered in an abandoned meth lab in Missouri.

    Anthropologist Jason Pine is interested in small-scale methamphetamine production that happens in impoverished, rural areas of the United States. In the latest issue of the magazine, Distillations interviewed Pine about his research in a county in Northeastern Missouri that is known as the Meth Capital of the United States. The entire interview couldn’t fit into the magazine, so we’re posting bonus questions here. To read the rest of Pine’s responses, check out the article.

    In the past, you’ve connected meth production to alchemy. Tell me about that.

    I am exploring the relationship of methamphetamine manufacture to alchemy, particularly alchemical practices that were not linked to elites (e.g., aristocracies and royal courts). It is not my goal to trace historical continuity linking pre-Enlightenment alchemy with present-day meth manufacture. Rather, I want to pursue the idea that the relationship of alchemy to chemistry has possibly reverberated at various moments in history in homologous relationships, including that of the present, where unorthodox, rogue chemists engage in their own version of the medical, economic, and psychic practices engaged by the pharmaceutical industry.

    Alchemical literature, both original and secondary, is vast and demands years of careful study, but I believe that it is heuristically valuable to speculate that alchemy-chemistry tensions may in some form animate contemporary home meth manufacture. And referring to alchemy in my analysis not only conjures the distinction between “modern” laboratory chemistry and DIY “rogue” tinkering—a meth cook’s homemade elixir versus Shire Pharmaceuticals’ product Adderall—but it throws into relief many peculiarities of meth cooking itself. For instance, recipes are often kept secret and transmitted through apprenticeships, sometimes between family generations.

    Your first book examined the relationship between DIY music and organized crime in Naples, Italy. What draws you to these secretive, underground societies? What can we learn from them?

    The main lesson I have learned from both of my long-term research projects is that secretive, alternative economic and cultural formations are not at all distinct from or adjuncts to legitimated, mainstream formations. Instead, they are rather in sync with the affects and aesthetics that fuel and contour the more ordinary everyday lives and throw under examined aspects into relief. To me this is punk. When I temporarily participate in and look honestly at these alternative lifeworlds, the questions that arise implicate my own lifeworld—my vocation, my methods of getting by economically and socially—and challenge them. I think honest and vulnerable self-reflexive inquiries can steer a person away from further marginalizing people who are poor and/or engaged in fringe practices and instead see how the so-called margins are uncannily familiar.

    Image: Compound Interest

    The science of why you should eat your vegetables:

    Brussels sprouts also contain compounds that have been investigated for potential health benefits. Chief amongst these is sulforaphane, an isothiocyanate breakdown product of the glucosinolates. Research has focused on sulforaphane’s potential as a protector against neurodegenerative diseases, and whilst more research is still required, neuroprotective effects have been observed both in lab-cultured cells and within animals.


    Happy Birthday to Dmitri Mendeleev, the architect of the periodic table, born on this day in 1834. Why did Mendeleev’s table prevail over other versions? In a review from our archives of Eric R. Scerri’s book The Periodic Table, James L. Marshall writes:
    In part, Mendeleev was so successful because he was the champion of propagating the periodic system, defending its validity and devoting time to its elaboration. But Scerri goes deeper; he suggests that Mendeleev’s advantage lay in his philosophical approach that allowed him to differentiate “simple substances” (Lavoisier’s isolable elements) from “basic, or abstract, substances” (unobservable, or property-bearing entities) and thus achieve a deeper understanding of just what the periodic table represents. 

    Reviewing the Periodic Table: Book traces the historic and philosophic development of an icon of science

    Chemical & Engineering News, November 12, 2007

    You can read more about the origins of the periodic table on Mendeleev’s birthday in our magazine.

    (via cenwatchglass)


    Story time. Hennig Brand was a German alchemist in the mid 1600s. I’m not saying he was a gold digger — but he did marry first one rich lady, and then, after her death, a second rich lady. And he used their money to literally try to make gold.

    Back then, a lot of people thought you could change worthless materials into precious metals. And Brand was convinced he could distill gold from a golden substance that he encountered every day: human urine.

    He used his wife’s money to build a basement laboratory, and employed his stepson as a lab assistant. Then, he started collecting.

    Accounts from the time don’t go into detail about where Brand got his raw material, or what his basement smelled like, or what the stepson thought of his new dad. But they do suggest that Brand stockpiled something like 1,500 gallons of urine. Then he set to work. One of the surviving accounts of the process begins:

    Take a good large Quantity of New-made Urine of Beer-drinkers and evaporate it gently to the consistency of honey.

    I’ll spare you the rest — it involved lots of boiling and cooking and waiting.

    In the end, Brand’s persistence paid off. He didn’t make gold, but he did end up with a white, waxy substance that glowed in the dark. He had stumbled upon the element phosphorus. The name, appropriately, starts with “p.”

    Phosphorus, it turns out, is an incredibly powerful element. It has been used in deadly explosives (including a few bombs that destroyed Brand’s Hamburg neighborhood in 1943) and in the synthetic fertilizers that help feed the world.

    Throughout history, curious minds have turned mistakes, coincidences and surprises like the discovery of phosphorus into important scientific insights.

    Now Skunk Bear is looking for modern examples. We’d like you to send us your stories of happy accidents in the lab and in the field that led to interesting discoveries. Or maybe such stories from your friends or professors or students or colleagues — or just modern cases of scientific luck you’ve heard about. They don’t have to be earth-shattering — serendipity can work in tiny ways.

    Our favorite stories will be honored in an awards show later this month, and one twice-lucky scientist will receive a trophy I carved myself — The Golden Mole Award For Accidental Brilliance.

    SUBMIT HERE:  npr.org/goldenmole

    CSI: Gowanus - Cleaning up the Canal from ChemHeritage on Vimeo.

    I’m Rigoberto Hernandez, the assistant multimedia producer for Distillations podcasts and videos. My most recent assignment was to make “CSI: Gowanus,” a video about the complex history of the Gowanus Canal in Brooklyn, New York. Here are three things I never thought I would do while making the video:

    1) I got a canoe.

    One of the most important elements of making a film about the Gowanus Canal was getting shots from the canal itself. This was a challenge because the canal is a Superfund site, and generally people want to stay away from toxic chemicals. Luckily I found a group of adventurers: The Gowanus Dredgers Canoe Club. One of their members gave me the keys to unlock canoes stationed by the canal. I now have access to their canoes year-round if I ever feel like boating in Brooklyn.

    2) I chose my own adventure.

    Another necessary element of making a film about the Gowanus canal was getting up high to get a sense of place. I climbed three floors of stairs on a fire escape on the side of a building to get a shot from above—and on the way back down I discovered a sign explicitly forbidding that climb.

    3) I visited the Statue of Liberty.

    On the last day of shooting in the canoe we ran into a pontoon boat full of bearded 30-somethings and they invited us to join them. I figured that their boat would give us access to parts of the canal that I couldn’t get to with a canoe, so we got on board. They decided to take us to the Statue of Liberty, which turned into a highlight of the filming.

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