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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
In this episode of The Disappearing Spoon, Sam Kean examines the dark, restless side of the father of the atomic bomb.
In this episode of The Disappearing Spoon, Sam Kean revisits the reputation of the renowned Renaissance man.
Reflecting on the trailblazing chemist’s fight for dignity and the myths we tell about our scientific heroes.
Episode 3 from the ‘Innate: How Science Invented the Myth of Race’ series.
Restoring the legacy of a physical chemistry pioneer.
This episode of The Disappearing Spoon explores scientist John Calhoun’s mouse utopia and what it can tell us about the ways we impose lessons for society onto lab experiments.
Or will the scientist’s 200th birthday be his last hurrah?
This Disappearing Spoon episode explores how the legendary gardener’s reputation as the patron saint of the American wilderness ignores his boozy origins.
The Disappearing Spoon has the story behind notorious surgeon Walter Freeman’s contempt for his father, failures with his sons, and obsession with lobotomies.
This episode of The Disappearing Spoon is the third in a three-part series on legendary physicists and their dumbest mistakes.
Learn about the physicist’s biggest-blunder-turned-greatest success in this episode of The Disappearing Spoon.
This episode of The Disappearing Spoon explores why the iconic physicist made an unbelievable error while hunting down criminals, and how you can avoid the same dumb mistake.
This episode of The Disappearing Spoon reveals how an obsession with crustaceans guided the naturalist toward his most consequential insights.
How an obsession with crustaceans guided the naturalist toward his most consequential insights.
A scientist pitted hard work and ingenuity against the constraints she faced as a Jewish woman.
Reconsidering the fate of an overlooked polio fighter.
What drove a blind biochemist to experiment with LSD?
Though often celebrated, the adventurous First Lady never received full credit for her scientific accomplishments.
When American women bought Marie Curie a vital gram of the element.
Otto Hahn and Lise Meitner navigated a life of science through war and peace.
During the War of 1870, astronomer Jules Janssen risked his life for scientific prestige and French patriotism.
An interview with author Sam Kean.
An interview with Wendy Zukerman, host of the Science Vs podcast.
Chemist Max Bredig’s race to save family and friends from catastrophe.
A lucky streak sends a meteorologist on the flight of a lifetime.
In the waning days of World War II, a psychiatrist raced across Germany to uncover the harrowing abuses of Nazi doctors.
After 150 years of scrutiny, scholars still misrepresent the doctor’s life and gender.
A recent collection showcases the famous and not-so-famous women who have left their mark on the periodic table.
After transforming the periodic table should the promising young scientist have been allowed to fight in World War I?
A fighter pilot’s tragic flight into a nuclear explosion leads to the discovery of two elements.
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.
The biomedical researcher talks about her work using nanotechnology to detect and treat disease.
Historian Ingrid Ockert makes a case for the spoken word.
Distillations talks to the biochemist about the discovery of CRISPR-Cas9, the tool’s promise, and dangers of its misuse.
How did a Philadelphia chemist 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.
Foul-mouthed, heavy-drinking eccentric Harry R. Truman became a folk hero for refusing to evacuate his home in the months before Mount St. Helens erupted. Where did he go once it did?
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.
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.
The story behind a rare work by the father of the periodic table.
The woman beside the father of chemistry.
William Herschel had a conflicted relationship with his biggest creation.
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.
The highs and lows of lab life.
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.
In the early 19th century, Humphry Davy was a scientific superstar, but then science and the world around him changed.
Filippo Marinetti thought he could change Italian society through its collective belly.
Ernest Lawrence championed the idea of science done collectively. But he failed to champion his own scientists during the Red Scare.
In Silicon Valley’s renegade days, a hardheaded Texan chased dreams of a flying car.
Was Svante Arrhenius the first climate change believer?
Before these men became successful chemists they were World War II meteorologists.
Inventor Charles Babbage drew inspiration from an unusual source for his analytical engine.
The day a lead balloon flew.
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.
Nikola Tesla’s career epitomizes the scientist as showman.
Faced with political opposition to his work, the Czech chemist created the first wearable soft contact lens using a set of toys, a hot plate, and a gramophone motor.
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.
How did the launch of Sputnik I in 1957 change the lives of two Americans?
Katharine Burr Blodgett was the first female scientist hired by General Electric. Her work was truly invisible, deliberately so.
For decades serious people have tried to turn the stuff of science fiction—space colonies, self-replicating machines, and solar sails—into scientific reality.
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?
For more than 100 years scientists have been discovering and creating bizarre, exotic ices. Ices that can even burn a hole in you!
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?
Jābir ibn Hayyan, whose name is inextricably bound to the foundations of alchemy, is a man of mystery.
Reatha Clark King wanted to be a research chemist, so she made the journey from the segregated South to Illinois. At the University of Chicago her dreams came true.
On May 1, 1915, Clara Immerwahr Haber sat down at her desk to write farewell letters to friends and family.
Robert Boyle is best known in chemistry classrooms for Boyle’s law, which describes the fundamental relationship between the pressure of a gas and the volume it occupies. But Boyle’s law was never stated outright in Boyle’s work.
Chemist Frank Field turned a hand-me-down mass spectrometer into pioneering career.
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.
A 1904 caricature from Vanity Fair is a striking example of the role images played in creating the Marie Curie myth.
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.
Susan Solomon led expeditions in Antarctica and proposed the now-accepted theory about the role of chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) in creating the ozone hole.
David Sarnoff wanted to be a journalist; instead he created commercial broadcasting and helped kick off the color revolution in television.
For brothers William and Lawrence Knox, earning PhDs in chemistry was not enough to overcome discrimination.
When Jane Marcet wrote Conversations on Chemistry, she had little idea it would introduce Michael Faraday into the world of science.
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.
A personal portrait of the Nobel Prize–winning crystallographer.
Assessing J. Robert Oppenheimer as a leader.
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.
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.