Distillations | Science History Institute

Distillations | Science History Institute

Each episode of Distillations podcast takes a deep-dive into a moment of science-related history in order to shed light on the present.... Show More

Episodes

September 8, 2020

Outer space is crowded. Satellites, pieces of rocket, and stuff that astronauts left behind, such as cameras and poop, are just floating around. This space junk can pose a threat to our communication systems.

In this episode we talk with Lisa Ruth Rand, a fellow at the Science History Institute, about her upcoming book on space junk. She tells us how space weather—that’s right, there’s space weather—can have an effect on what falls...

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August 29, 2020

Outer space belongs to everyone and no one, at least that’s what the Outer Space Treaty of 1967 says. On its face, this seems like an uncontroversial statement. But in the 1970s a group of equatorial countries challenged this idea. Only the richest and most powerful countries can afford to reach outer space in the first place, they argued, so in principle these nations controlled it. The protesting countries were ignored at the tim...

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Worldwide nearly 3 million workers die on the job each year. U.S. workers experience roughly that same number of injuries and illnesses each year. Work is hard and dangerous, and we have the data to prove it. But who started collecting that data? The answer takes us back to Paracelsus, an early modern physician and alchemist who noticed that the miners he lived among often became very ill or died. His inquiries laid the foundation ...

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Earning a PhD can be grueling for the healthiest student. But what is it like for a student with widespread pain and fatigue? Is it even possible? Marine geologist and geophysicist Gabriela Serrato Marks tells us that academia was not set up for people like her, and she wants to change that.

Hosts: Alexis Pedrick and Elisabeth Berry Drago
Senior Producer: Mariel Carr
Producer: Rigoberto Hernandez
Audio Engineer: Jonathan Pfeffer
Or...

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There’s a common assumption that to be a scientist you must also be a genius, someone who excelled at school and learns easily and quickly. But are these really the qualities necessary to produce new scientific knowledge? Collin Diedrich is a research scientist with a doctorate in molecular virology and microbiology. On paper he might seem to be the archetypal smart scientist, but the reality is more complicated. Collin has multipl...

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July 26th, 2020 marked the 30th anniversary of the signing of the Americans with Disabilities Act. But the history of disability in the United States goes back much further. Historian Kim Nielsen tells us that disability has always been part of American life, from precolonial times to today. Our producer Rigoberto Hernandez talked with Nielsen about her book A Disability History of the United States.

 
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August 11, 2020

Everyone knows that observation is a key part of the scientific method, but what does that mean for scientists who can’t see? Judith Summers-Gates is a successful, visually impaired chemist who uses a telescope to read street signs. If the thought of a blind scientist gives you pause, you’re not alone. But stop and ask yourself why. What assumptions do we make about how knowledge is produced? And who gets to produce it? And who get...

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August 4, 2020

We’ve long been fascinated by the mysteries of reproduction. But that curiosity is piqued most intensely when something unexpected happens. The study of such “monstrous births,” as scientists once called them, propelled forward our understanding of how embryos and fetuses develop. And the key to unlocking this knowledge was found gathering dust in the basement of the Russian Academy of Sciences, in a macabre collection assembled by...

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Our new season starts August 4th! 

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Over the past few weeks Distillations has been talking to people who have special insight into the coronavirus crisis—biomedical researchers, physicians, public health experts, and historians.

In this episode we talk with Magda Marquet, a biochemical engineer and an entrepreneur. Marquet has spent decades working on DNA vaccines, one of the many techniques being used to create a vaccine for Covid-19. She also sits on the board of A...

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We talk about COVID-19 with Robert Langer, a chemical engineer and an entrepreneur, who runs the largest biomedical engineering research laboratory in the world at MIT. He has also started numerous biotech companies, including Moderna Therapeutics, a company that’s been making headlines for the COVID-19 vaccine they’re developing.

Langer told us about his work with the Gates Foundation to develop a way for vaccines to self-boost in...

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Over the next several weeks Distillations will be talking to people who have special insight into the coronavirus crisis—biomedical researchers, physicians, public health experts, and historians.

In this episode we talk to Mark Stevenson, the chief operating officer of Thermo Fisher Scientific, an instrumentation company that has designed a diagnostic test for the novel coronavirus. The company is also working on a serology test, w...

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Our senior producer, Mariel Carr, talks with John Maraganore, the CEO of Alnylam Pharmaceuticals, a company developing an antiviral medication for COVID-19.

When news broke in January about the new coronavirus, John Maraganore made the decision to pause other drugs in development and pivot to working on an antiviral medication for this new and alarmingly infectious virus.

He says it was a difficult decision, but this virus had all ...

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Over the next several weeks Distillations will be talking to people who have special insight into the coronavirus crisis—biomedical researchers, physicians, public health experts, and historians.

In this episode our producer Rigberto Hernandez talks with Katrine Bosley, who has worked in the biotech industry for more than 30 years. Until recently she was the CEO of Editas Medicine, a company that focuses on a gene-editing technolog...

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We talk to William Haseltine, a scientist, entrepreneur, and author who has lived through three epidemics (polio, HIV/AIDS, and now COVID-19). He tells us how his lab in the 1980s was better prepared to deal with HIV/AIDS than we are now for COVID-19 and what he thinks lies ahead for us with this pandemic.  

Over the next several weeks Distillations will be talking to people who have special insight into the coronavirus crisis—biom...

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Over the next several weeks Distillations will be talking to people who have special insight into the coronavirus crisis—biomedical researchers, physicians, public health experts, and historians.

In this episode we speak with Susan Weiss, a microbiology professor at the University of Pennsylvania and the director for the Penn Center for Research on Coronavirus and Emerging Pathogens. She’ll talk about her 40-years of experience res...

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Over the next several weeks Distillations will be talking to people who have special insight into the coronavirus crisis—biomedical researchers, physicians, public health experts, and historians. 

In this episode we speak with Sue Desmond-Hellmann, an oncologist who worked with HIV patients in San Francisco in the 1980s during the HIV/AIDS epidemic. She was also the CEO of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation up until December 201...

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Over the next several weeks Distillations will be talking to people with special insight into the coronavirus crisis—biomedical researchers, physicians, public health experts, and historians.

In this episode we speak with John C. Martin, a biomedical researcher and former CEO of Gilead Sciences. Gilead is a pharmaceutical giant best known for its antiviral therapies for HIV/AIDS and hepatitis, but it’s also the company behind remde...

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The historical curator of a new exhibition at the Mütter Museum discusses the eerie parallels between the 1918-1919 flu pandemic and the coronavirus.

In the fall of 1918 the (misnomered) Spanish flu ravaged much of the world. Philadelphia was hit especially hard: it had the highest death rate of any major American city. Over the course of six weeks 12,000 people in the city died. Hospitals were overcrowded and bodies piled up.

When...

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Over the past few years our producers have been saving all the raw tape from our tracking sessions (maybe to blackmail us at some point?)

But because we all need some levity these days, we dug it out for your listening pleasure. We hope these outtakes (improvised songs about the history of science, complaints about squeaky chairs, and musings about various forms of a dystopian future) amuse you as much as they amused us.

"Climb...

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