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Using stories from science’s past to understand our world
Science in all its strangeness before the 18th century
The pirate-turned-naturalist-turned-pirate-again inspired generations of British writers and scientists.
The tricks and tools book sleuths use to date the undated.
Since humans have been living—and inevitably dying—we’ve also been trying to figure out how not to die. Or at least how to keep the party going a little longer.
What a manuscript can tell us about an iconic scientist and the history we’ve built around him.
How searching for alchemy’s secrets helped create modern science.
The clues that betray a book’s disreputable past.
Historian Bruce Moran reveals the life of an itinerant doctor whose work influenced modern science.
When New York’s poor revolted against the city’s grave-robbing medical establishment.
How an ancient mathematical pop-up book became “sophisticated.”
An exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art shows how power and science were intertwined in early modern Europe.
An engraving in the Science History Institute’s collections hints at the ways art and science were intertwined in the Age of Enlightenment.
An ancient work on toxicology gets a 16th-century makeover from a master of fonts.
In the exhibition Age of Alchemy, paintings, laboratory tools, and more showcase the quest to transform the human body and the natural world.
Alchemists once wrote of chaos, dragons, and spirits, but did they know more about chemistry than we give them credit for?
In 17th-century England, doctors battled illness and each other.
Travel back in time with us and find out what the world was like when science and the supernatural weren’t so far apart.
It’s our 200th episode! To celebrate we pieced together some of the funniest, grossest, and most surprising moments in Distillations history.
More than 350 years ago the very first air pump changed how science was done.
What connects a founder of the Western model of university education to the secrets of women?
In Renaissance maps geography becomes an art form.
What do magnetic compasses have to do with garlic? Direct yourself to the strange history of the compass.
Just in time for Valentine’s Day, we explore the sexier side of alchemy.
Discover alchemy, the secret science!
In the 17th century, experimentalists were only beginning to understand the connections among blood, respiration, and air.
Robert G. W. Anderson reviews John C. Powers’s Inventing Chemistry: Herman Boerhaave and the Reform of the Chemical Arts.
On today’s show, a special conversation between two alchemy experts.
Boyle’s Sceptical Chymist (London, 1661) is an acknowledged landmark of science. But the book’s reputation is based less on what it is than on what it is perceived to be.
Even toward the end of his life, Isaac Newton still had questions about chemistry.
You can’t tell a book by its cover.
Michal Meyer reviews the anthology Seeing Further: The Story of Science and the Royal Society.
Henry Stubbe’s biting critiques of the Royal Society, originally appended together but separated over time, were happily reunited by CHF 338 years after publication.
Robert Malone reviews Science: A Four Thousand Year History by Patricia Fara.
At look at the museum's temporary exhibit, Marvels and Ciphers: A Look Inside the Flask.
Although many were skilled in making medicinal home remedies, only a few women ran their own apothecaries, competing with males for the right to make and prescribe medicines.
The first balloons, both hot air and hydrogen powered, drew spectacular crowds and set off a craze—balloonomania!
Peter Dear reviews Glass of the Alchemists: Lead Crystal–Gold Ruby, 1650–1750, on view at the Corning Museum of Glass until January 4, 2009.
Alchemy is about a lot more than turning lead into gold or making the philosopher’s stone.
Anke Timmermann reviews Tara Nummedal’s Alchemy and Authority in the Holy Roman Empire.
Allison Kavey reviews Deborah E. Harkness’s The Jewel House: Elizabethan London and the Scientific Revolution.
Gabriele Ferrario reviews Michael Hamilton Morgan’s Lost History: The Enduring Legacy of Muslim Scientists, Thinkers, and Artists and George Saliba’s Islamic Science and the Making of the European Renaissance.
Mary Ellen Bowden reviews William R. Newman’s Atoms and Alchemy: Chymistry and the Experimental Origins of the Scientific Revolution.
Jole Shackelford reviews Philip Ball’s The Devil’s Doctor: Paracelsus and the World of Renaissance Magic and Science.
Historians have uncovered evidence of the immense influence of Arabic alchemy—a largely unexplored piece of the alchemical puzzle.