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Distillations | Science History Institute

Distillations | Science History Institute

Author: Science History Institute

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Each episode of Distillations podcast takes a deep-dive into a moment of science-related history in order to shed light on the present.
285 Episodes
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We've collaborated with Philadelphia photographer Kyle Cassidy to tell the stories of our city's essential workers. This fall his large-scale portraits of nurses, sanitation workers, Instacart shoppers, mask-makers, and delivery drivers will be on display on the exterior of the Science History Institute, in Old City Philadelphia. Find out more at sciencehistory.org/pandemic. Hosts: Alexis Pedrick and Elisabeth Berry Drago Senior Producer: Mariel Carr Producer: Rigoberto Hernandez Music by Blue Dot Sessions: "Arlan Vale," "Alum Drum," "Setting Pace," "Kalstead," "Drone Pine," and "Raskt Landsby."
Space Junk

Space Junk

2020-09-0858:05

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 on Earth. She also talks about how our views on space debris reveal our attitudes back on Earth and how space junk truly made the space age global. Credits Hosts: Alexis Pedrick and Elisabeth Berry Drago Senior Producer: Mariel Carr Producer: Rigoberto Hernandez Audio Engineer: James Morrison Resource List Interview with Marie Ruman. Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, January 24, 1978. Judd, Bridget. “NASA’s Skylab met its demise in Australia more than 40 years ago—but was it really an accident?” Australian Broadcasting Corporation, May 30, 2020.  The MacNeil/Lehrer Report, “Cosmos 954.” January 25, 1978, American Archive of Public Broadcasting.  Rand, Lisa Ruth. “Orbital Decay: Space Junk and the Environmental History of Earth’s Planetary Borderlands.” PhD diss., University of Pennsylvania, 2016.  Rand, Lisa Ruth. “Wasted Space: The History of Orbiting Junk.” Science History Institute, December 5, 2019. Trudeau, Pierre Elliott. Speech at the House of Commons of Canada, January 24, 1978. 
Who Owns Outer Space?

Who Owns Outer Space?

2020-09-0135:26

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 time, but to some their warnings seem more urgent now that it isn’t just wealthy nations with space programs, but also individual billionaires. Hosts: Alexis Pedrick and Elisabeth Berry Drago Senior Producer: Mariel Carr Producer: Rigoberto Hernandez Audio Engineer: James Morrison Music by Blue Dot Sessions
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 for occupational health and the workplace safety standards we have today. Hosts: Alexis Pedrick and Elisabeth Berry Drago Senior Producer: Mariel Carr Producer: Rigoberto Hernandez Audio Engineer: James Morrison
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 Original Music by Zach Young
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 multiple learning disabilities, and he has struggled to overcome the stigma that comes with them for his entire life. In this episode we explore how our narrow definition of intelligence not only holds back people such as Collin, but also prevents the creation of new scientific knowledge that benefits us all. This is the second of two episodes about science and disability and was produced in collaboration with the Science and Disability oral history project at the Science History Institute. Credits Hosts: Alexis Pedrick and Elisabeth Berry Drago Senior Producer: Mariel Carr Producer: Rigoberto Hernandez Audio Engineer: James Morrison Resource List Martucci, Jessica. “History Lab: Through the Lens of Disability.” Science History Institute, June 22, 2019.   Martucci, Jessica. “Through the Lens of Disability.” Distillations, November 8, 2018.  Martucci, Jessica. “Science and Disability.” Distillations, August 18, 2017.  Diedrich, Collin. Oral history conducted on 19 and 22 June 2017 by Jessica Martucci and Gregory S. Waters, Science and Disability project, Science History Institute.   
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.  
Science and Disability

Science and Disability

2020-08-1140:13

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 gets to participate in science? In this episode we go deep into the history of how vision came to dominate scientific observation and how blind scientists challenge our assumptions. This is the first of two episodes about science and disability and was produced in collaboration with the Science and Disability oral history project at the Science History Institute. Credits Hosts: Alexis Pedrick and Elisabeth Berry Drago Senior Producer: Mariel Carr Producer: Rigoberto Hernandez Audio Engineer: James Morrison Resource List Lemonick, Sam. “Artificial intelligence tools could benefit chemists with disabilities. So why aren’t they?” C&EN, March 18, 2019.  Martucci, Jessica. “History Lab: Through the Lens of Disability.” Science History Institute, June 22, 2019.   Martucci, Jessica. “Through the Lens of Disability.” Distillations, November 8, 2018.  Martucci, Jessica. “Science and Disability.” Distillations, August 18, 2017.  Slaton, Amy. “Body? What Body? Considering Ability and Disability in STEM Disciplines.”120th ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, January 23, 2013. Summers-Gates, Judith. Oral history conducted on 20 January and 6 February 2017 by Jessica Martucci and Lee Sullivan Berry, Science and Disability project, Science History Institute. 
Collecting Monstrosity

Collecting Monstrosity

2020-08-0437:58

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 Czar Peter the Great. The story behind this collection reveals a little-known corner of the history of the life sciences and raises some big questions, like how do bodies we see as abnormal inform and define what we see as normal? And how does this influence how we think about disability today? Credits Hosts: Alexis Pedrick and Elisabeth Berry Drago Senior Producer: Mariel Carr Producer: Rigoberto Hernandez Audio Engineer: James Morrison Music by Blue Dot Sessions: "When in the West," "Calisson," "Entwined Oddity," "Stately Shadows," "Louver," "Tuck and Point," "Our Only Lark." Additional songs by the Audio Network.
Our new season starts August 4th! 
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 Arcturus Therapeutics, which is developing a vaccine for the disease. She tells us about how a company she cofounded, AltheaDx, is taking on the mental health crisis, which has been exacerbated by the pandemic. And she discusses her hopes that the lessons learned during the pandemic might change society for the better.  Credits  |  Transcript Credits Host: Lisa Berry Drago Senior Producer: Mariel Carr  Producer: Rigoberto Hernandez Researcher: Jessica Wade Audio Engineer: Jonathan Pfeffer Original music by Zach Young.
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 the body, his work with the sneaker company New Balance to create masks, and his thoughts about how diagnostic testing could be better. Credits Host: Alexis Pedrick Senior Producer: Mariel Carr Producer: Rigoberto Hernandez Researcher: Jessica Wade Audio Engineer: Jonathan Pfeffer Original music composed by Zach Young.  
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, which will determine who has already had the virus. He tells us how the company developed those tests and the role they play in managing this pandemic. Credits Host: Alexis Pedrick Senior Producer: Mariel Carr Producer: Rigoberto Hernandez Researcher: Jessica Wade Audio Engineer: Jonathan Pfeffer
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 the ingredients to become a pandemic. “And when you have a public health crisis like this, that’s what you do.”
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 technology known as CRISPR. She’s now on the board of the Massachusetts Eye and Ear Hospital and is advising the facility on its quest to create a COVID-19 vaccine. She tells us how CRISPR can be used to make faster diagnostic tests and how the hospital in Boston is creating a vaccine using a gene therapy method.  “One of the things that’s important for all of us competing against this virus is to have a lot of technologically different strategies to try to make a vaccine.” Credits Hosts: Elisabeth Berry Drago, Alexis Pedrick  Senior Producer: Mariel Carr Producer: Rigoberto Hernandez Researcher: Jessica Wade Audio Engineer: Jonathan Pfeffer
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—biomedical researchers, physicians, public health experts, and historians. Credits Hosts: Elisabeth Berry Drago, Alexis Pedrick  Senior Producer: Mariel Carr Producer: Rigoberto Hernandez Researcher: Jessica Wade Audio Engineer: Jonathan Pfeffer​​​​​​​
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 researching coronaviruses, how her field reacted to the 2002 SARS and 2012 MERS outbreaks, and the importance of studying diseases that transfer from animals to humans.  Credits Hosts: Elisabeth Berry Drago Senior Producer: Mariel Carr Producer: Rigoberto Hernandez Researcher: Jessica Wade Additional production: Dan Drago
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 2019. Desmond-Hellmann tells us about her experiences working as a doctor during the HIV/AIDS epidemic and as a CEO of the Gates Foundation during the Ebola pandemic. She also discusses what we learned from HIV and Ebola that can help us in fighting COVID-19.  Credits Hosts: Alexis Pedrick and Elisabeth Berry Drago Senior Producer: Mariel Carr Producer: Rigoberto Hernandez Researcher: Lisa Grissom Image: by Krista Kennell/Fortune Most Powerful Women Summit.
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 remdesivir, an antiviral drug that has recently made headlines as a possible treatment for COVID-19. Martin talked to senior producer Mariel Carr about remdesivir, antiviral treatments for HIV and other illnesses, and working with Anthony “Tony” Fauci. Credits Hosts: Alexis Pedrick and Elisabeth Berry Drago Senior Producer: Mariel Carr Producer: Rigoberto Hernandez Music: "Balti," "Tuck and Point," and "Slimheart" by Blue Dot Sessions. Research Notes "Fauci: New Drug Remdesivir Cuts Down Coronavirus Recovery Time," NBC Nightly News. April 29, 2020.
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 the Mütter Museum embarked on the multiyear exhibition and public art project Spit Spreads Death, the curators and researchers behind it had no idea how relevant it would become—or how quickly.
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Comments (1)

Julia Eva

This 3 part series has been incredible. The music, the breakdown and the relevance to Philadelphia being the city Distillations originates from..I think it is a stand out of this podcast. More like this would be greatly appreciated! such an important and educational series.

Oct 30th
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