Distillations: Science + Culture + History

Tune in to the next episode of Distillations on June 26!

Direct download: smog_promo_3.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 2:40pm EDT

Remember acid rain? If you were a kid in the 1980s like our hosts were, the threat of poison falling from the sky probably made some kind of impression on your consciousness. But thanks to the work of scientists, government, the media, and the pope—that’s right, the pope—the problem was fixed! Well, mostly fixed is probably more accurate.

This complicated story spans 27 years, six U.S. presidents, and ecologist Gene Likens's entire career. Discover the insidious details in the second chapter of our three-part series on environmental success stories. 

Credits

Hosts: Alexis Pedrick and Elisabeth Berry Drago
Senior ProducerMariel Carr
ProducerRigoberto Hernandez
Audio Engineer: James Morrison 
Additional audio was recorded by David G. Rainey.

Image of Gene Likens by Phil Bradshaw of FreshFly.

We interviewed Rachel Rothschild, a former Science History Institute research fellow and Rumford Scholar, about her book, “Poisonous Skies: Acid Rain and the Globalization of Pollution.” To research this episode we read her 2015 dissertation, A Poisonous Sky: Scientific Research and International Diplomacy on Acid Rain. We also read Merchants of Doubt: How a Handful of Scientists Obscured the Truth on Issues from Tobacco Smoke to Global Warming by Naomi Oreskes and Erik Conway (Bloomsbury, 2010).

We interviewed Gene Likens at Hubbard Brook Experimental Forest in New Hampshire in 2015 with Glenn Holsten and FreshFly. We interviewed him again in May 2018.

 

The following are the archival news clips we used as they appear in the episode:

Bettina Gregory, Tom Jarriel, and Bill Zimmerman. ABC Evening News, December 14, 1978. 

Walter Cronkite and Jim Kilpatrick. “Environment: The Earth Revisited/Acid Rain.” CBS Evening News, September 11, 1979.

Robert Bazell and John Chancellor. “Special Segment: Acid Rain.” NBC Evening News, May 9, 1980.

“The MacNeil/Lehrer Report: Acid Rain,” NewsHour Productions, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (Boston: WGBH; Washington, DC: Library of Congress), aired May 26, 1980, on PBS, http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip_507-pk06w9754b.

“The MacNeil/Lehrer NewsHour,” NewsHour Productions, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (Boston: WGBH; Washington, DC: Library of Congress), aired on June 30, 1988, on PBS, http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip_507-b56d21s53c.

Tom Brokaw and Robert Hager. “Air Pollution: George Bush.” NBC Evening News, November 15, 1990.

Music

Our theme music was composed by Zach Young. 

Additional music courtesy of the Audio Network

Direct download: Distillations231_5.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 2:48pm EDT

Tune in to the next episode of Distillations on May 22!

Direct download: Acid_Rain_Promo_3.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 3:21pm EDT

If you were around in the 1980s, you probably remember the lurking fear of an ominous hole in the sky. In the middle of the decade scientists discovered that a giant piece of the ozone layer was disappearing over Antarctica, and the situation threatened us all. The news media jumped on the story. The ozone layer is like the earth’s sunscreen: without it ultraviolet rays from the sun would cause alarming rates of skin cancer and could even damage marine food chains. And it turns out we were causing the problem.

Today, more than three decades after the initial discovery, the ozone hole in Antarctica is finally on the road to recovery. How did we do it? This environmental success story gives us a glimpse into what happens when scientists, industry, the public, and the government all work together to manage a problem that threatens all of us. Happy Earth Day!

Credits

Hosts: Alexis Pedrick and Elisabeth Berry Drago
Senior ProducerMariel Carr
ProducerRigoberto Hernandez

To research this episode we read Merchants of Doubt: How a Handful of Scientists Obscured the Truth on Issues from Tobacco Smoke to Global Warming by Naomi Oreskes and Erik Conway. We read, listened to, and used excerpts from an oral history with chemist Mario Molina that was conducted by the Science History Institute’s Center for Oral History. We also interviewed atmospheric chemist Susan Solomon at MIT in 2016.

These are the archival news clips we used as they appear in the episode:

Dow, David; Quinn, Jane Bryant; Rather, Dan. “Ozone Layer,” CBS Evening News. Aug 15, 1986.
Hager, Robert; Seigenthaler, John. “Ozone Layer,” NBC Evening News. Dec 3, 2000.
Gibson, Charles; Blakemore, Bill. “Environment/Ozone Layer,” ABC Evening News. Aug 22, 2006.
Reasoner, Harry; Stout, Bill. “Supersonic Transport Vs. Concorde,” CBS Evening News. Jan 1, 1969.
Quinn, Jane Bryant; Rather, Dan. “Ozone Layer Depletion,” CBS Evening News. Oct 20, 1986
Chancellor, John; Neal, Roy. “Special Report (Ozone),” NBC Evening News. Sep 24, 1975. Benton, Nelson; Cronkite, Walter. “Ozone/Fluorocarbons/ National Academy of Sciences Study,” CBS Evening News. Sept 14, 1976.
Brokaw, Tom; Hager, Robert. “Assignment Earth (Ozone Layer),” NBC Evening News. Feb 3, 1992.

Music

Our theme music was composed by Zach Young. 

Additional music courtesy of the Audio Network

Direct download: Distillations230.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 3:49pm EDT

They’re at the grocery checkout. They kill cancer cells. They’re in pointers that drive cats crazy and in the fiber networks that connect us to the internet. Lasers are so ubiquitous it’s hard to imagine a world without them. So you’d think we would know who the inventor was, right? Turns out it’s not so easy. There’s the guy who wrote down the initial idea, two other guys who got a patent for it, and then another guy who actually built the first laser. We spoke to Nick Taylor, author of Laser: The Inventor, the Noble Laureate, and the Thirty-Year Patent War about this story and what it tells us about how inventions happen.

Credits

Hosts: Alexis Pedrick and Elizabeth Berry Drago
Senior ProducerMariel Carr
Producer and ReporterRigoberto Hernandez
Audio Engineer: Catherine Girardeau

Music

Our theme music was composed by Zach Young. 

Additional music courtesy of the Audio Network

Direct download: Distillations229_2.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 3:19pm EDT

Yoga pants are having a moment. And while they’re not new, they’ve moved beyond the gym and yoga studio into nearly every corner of our lives.

This so-called athleisure wear trend has made a lot of people happy. “Once I wore [yoga pants], I never wore jeans again if I could help it,” says Sage Roundtree, a yoga instructor from North Carolina. But as comfy as the trend is, it has made a lot of people very unhappy—including the entire cotton industry. That’s because performance athletic wear isn’t made out of cotton. It’s made of synthetic fibers such as Lycra, polyester, and spandex. As demand for athleisure wear grows, demand for cotton shrinks.

Luckily, cotton has a few tricks up its sleeve to keep consumers interested—because this is only the latest episode in a decades-long rivalry between cotton and synthetic fibers.

Credits

Hosts: Alexis Pedrick and Elizabeth Berry Drago
Reporter and producer: James Morrison
Senior ProducerMariel Carr
ProducerRigoberto Hernandez

Music

Our theme music was composed by Zach Young. 

Additional music courtesy of the Audio Network

Direct download: Distillations228.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 12:03pm EDT

Every aspiring chemist has heard of Boyle’s law—the equation that relates the pressure of a gas to its volume. But even if you know about Robert Boyle himself, it’s not likely you’ve heard of his sister, even though she probably talked him through many of his ideas.

Katherine Jones, Lady Ranelagh (1615–1691), had a lifelong influence on her famous younger brother, natural philosopher Robert Boyle. In her lifetime she was recognized by many for her scientific knowledge, but her story was almost lost to time.

This episode is a collaboration with Poncie Rutsch, the creator and host of Babes of Science. Poncie interviewed CHF’s own Michelle DiMeo, a historian who’s writing a book about Lady Ranelagh. Babes of Science is a podcast that tries to answer two questions: Who are the women who changed the trajectory of science? And why has it taken us so long to recognize their work?

Credits

HostsMichal Meyer and Bob Kenworthy
Reporter and producer: Poncie Rutsch
Senior ProducerMariel Carr
ProducerRigoberto Hernandez

Music

Our theme music was composed by Zach Young. 

Additional music courtesy of the Free Music Archive

Day Into Night by Rho

Daydream Shelshock by Wolf Asylum

Am I The Devil by YEYEY

History Explains Itself by The Losers

Like Swimming by Broke For Free

Insatiable Toad by Blue Dot Sessions

One And by Broke For Free

Modulation of the Spirit by Little Glass Men

Melt by Broke For Free

Eleanor by The Losers

I Am A Man Who Will Fight For Your Honor by Chris Zabriskie

Tidal Wave by YEYEY

Direct download: Distillations227_2.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 2:05pm EDT

As you ponder which shiny new gadgets to put in your children’s stockings this holiday season, beware of the story of the Abbott family, whose lives were forever changed after a little too much screen time.

Distillations brings you a live performance of Ray Bradbury’s short story “The Veldt.” Originally titled “The World the Children Made,” it’s a science-fiction tale about the dangers of our growing overdependence on technology.

“People ask me to predict the future when all I want to do is prevent it,” Bradbury said. “We have too many cellphones. We’ve got too many internets. We have got to get rid of those machines.”

Special thanks to Mechanical Theater and the Hear Again Radio Project for the live performance.

Credits

HostsMichal Meyer and Bob Kenworthy
Senior ProducerMariel Carr
ProducerRigoberto Hernandez

Music

Our theme music was composed by Zach Young. 

Dream (instrumental) by Chan Wai Fat, courtesy of the Free Music Archive.

Direct download: Distillations226.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 2:15am EDT

It’s one of the most bizarre episodes in American food history: when butter and margarine were at war. What you choose to spread on your toast might seem like a boring subject, but it turns out to be fascinating and sometimes hilarious. Margarine’s history began with French emperor Napoleon III, a French chemist, and some sheep’s stomachs, and went on to include heated courtroom debates, our first federal laws regulating food, and outlaws smuggling faux butter across state lines.

The spreads have competed for more than a hundred years, and public preferences shift each time our understanding of health science changes. In this episode of Distillations we learn about the history of butter and margarine and explore the distinctly American debates they inspired involving food, health, science, and regulation.

Credits

HostsElisabeth Berry Drago and Alexis Pedrick
ProducerMariel Carr
Associate ProducerRigoberto Hernandez
Audio Engineer: Catherine Girardeau

Reading for this episode:

The Dairy Crisis: http://www.jstor.org/stable/40716626
Letters From Our Readers, The Wisconsin Magazine of History: http://www.jstor.org/stable/4636978
The “Oleo Wars”: Wisconsin’s Fight Over the Demon Spread, The Wisconsin Magazine of History: http://www.jstor.org/stable/4636942
Bogus Butter: An Analysis of the 1886 Congressional Debates on Oleomargarine Legislation: http://scholarworks.uvm.edu/graddis/36/
“If It’s Yellow, It Must be Butter”: Margarine Regulation in North America Since 1886, The Journal of Economic History: http://www.jstor.org/stable/2566555
What’s Cooking, Uncle Sam? The National Archives Foundation: https://www.archives.gov/exhibits/whats-cooking/

Special thanks to our voiceover artists, Hillary MohauptRoger Eardley-Pryor, and Sarah Reisert

Music

Our theme music was composed by Zach Young.

 

Direct download: Distillations_225_2.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 1:34pm EDT

Baby horses and giraffes walk soon after they’re born, and they can feed and take care of themselves pretty quickly, too. A one-year-old person, on the other hand, is basically helpless. But humans go on to live much longer than most other mammals, and scientists have long been trying to piece together why this is the case.

One theory, called the grandmother hypothesis, claims that grandmas are the key to why humans live so long. Unlike most other species, human females live long past their childbearing years and so can help raise their grandchildren, allowing their daughters (or daughters-in-law) to have another baby before the first one can take care of itself.

As warm and fuzzy as this idea sounds, it turns out to be pretty controversial. In this episode of Distillations we explore the grandmother hypothesis and find out what the debate is all about.

Credits

HostsMichal Meyer and Bob Kenworthy
ProducerMariel Carr
Associate ProducerRigoberto Hernandez 

Music

Our theme music was composed by Zach Young.

Direct download: Grandmother_Show_101617.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 3:18pm EDT