Tools & Technology

Chemistry as Technology

In today’s world, technology is seemingly ubiquitous. Chemistry plays a role in many technologies, but is sometimes quite invisible.

Episode 12 | February 29, 2008

Episode 12: Chemistry as Technology by Distillations Podcast

In today’s world, technology is seemingly ubiquitous. Chemistry plays a role in many technologies and may be obvious in some products, but is quite invisible in others. This week we learn about the discovery of liquid crystal and how it is used for many different electronic displays—from digital watches to computer screens. We also explore the role of chemistry in the Manhattan Project, and how hydrogenation impacts our daily lives. We take a visit to the BASF Catalysts R&D lab in Ohio to find out how hydrogenation is used in the production of margarine and why margarine became so common in kitchens. Element of the Week: Uranium.

Show Clock

00:00  Opening Credits
00:32  Introduction
01:39  Element of the Week: Uranium
04:13  Mystery Solved: Liquid Crystal Displays
06:51  Hydrogenation
10:59  Quote: Karl Compton
11:19  Closing Credits

Resources and References

On uranium: Pap A. Ndiaye, translated by Elborg Forster, Nylon and Bombs: DuPont and the March of Modern America (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2007).

On liquid crystals: The Nobel Prize web site.

On LCDs: How Stuff Works, and this helpful entry from Wikipedia.

Quotation: Karl Taylor Compton, A Scientist Speaks (Cambridge, Massachusetts: The MIT Press, 1955).


This show was researched by Victoria Indivero and Jody Roberts. Catherine Girardeau produced the segment on hydrogenation.

Our theme music is composed by Dave Kaufman. Additional music was provided from the Podsafe Music Network. The music for both the intro and outro to the Element of the Week is Cellophane, by nano.US. The music for the show ID is Cold War Special Ops, by The New Digital Sound. The music for the quotation is Two Mazurkas, by The Four Bags.

This week’s image is of a liquid crystal display grid, from the Science Photo Library. Photo by Andrew Syred.