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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.
275 Episodes
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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 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.
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. "Climbing the Mountain" by Podington Bear.
Stay tuned for our upcoming season, dropping in summer 2020!
Philadelphia just had the wettest decade on record, and all that precipitation has wreaked havoc on the city’s waterways. Like most old cities, Philadelphia has a combined sewer system—that is, one pipe is used to carry both sewage and stormwater. When it rains a lot, the system gets overwhelmed, forcing the water department to send raw sewage into rivers and creeks. City officials and engineers knew this was going to be a problem when they built the sewer system in the 1800s. The reason why they used a combined system anyway can be best explained by two forces: knowledge ceilings and path dependency. In this episode we’re going to explore how the city got to this point and how, in an interesting twist, it led to Philadelphia having one of the most innovative water systems in the country.    Philadelphia is home of the Distillations podcast. For this episode we are going to break down three centuries of water-pollution history in our backyard. It is a special collaboration with the Philadelphia Inquirer as part of their series From the Source: Stories of the Delaware River. Credits Host: Elisabeth Berry Drago Reporter: Rigoberto Hernandez, Sebastian Echeverri Senior Producer: Mariel Carr Producer: Rigoberto Hernandez  Audio Engineer: James Morrison  Additional production: Dan Drago Special thanks to the Science History Institutes, oral history department, and the museum team for doing some of the research that went into this episode. This includes Rebecca Ortenberg, Christy Schneider, Samantha Blatt, Zackary Biro, and Grey Pierce. Resource List Grabar, Henry. “Tunnel Vision.” Slate, January 2, 2019. Handy, Jam. “Waters of the Commonwealth.” Pennsylvania Sanitary Water Board, 1951.  Henninger, Danya. “The Incredible Fairmount Water Works: Explosions, Mark Twain and the Long-Lost Philadelphia Aquarium.” Billy Penn, October 10, 2015. Kummer, Frank. “The Secret Scourge of Climate Change? More Raw Sewage in Philadelphia’s Waterways.” Philadelphia Inquirer, September 13, 2019. Levine, Adam. “Fairmount Water Works.” Philadelphia Water Department Water and Drainage History Course, 2015.  Nemiroff, Sydney P., dir. “Road Ahead: Milestone 3.” Philadelphia Department of Records, ca. 1960.  Schulman, Alexis. “Sustainable Cities and Institutional Change: The Transformation of Urban Stormwater Management.” PhD diss., Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 2018.   Stutz, Bruce. “Philadelphia Is Tackling Its Stormwater Problem.” Yale Environment 360 (March 29, 2018). 
In 1970 Jane Hodgson became the only person in the United States ever convicted for performing an abortion in a hospital. A patient came to her St. Paul, Minnesota OB/GYN practice seeking an abortion. She had two kids, was pregnant with her third, and had rubella.  Minnesota's abortion law was one of the strictest in the country, but Jane Hodgson broke it. Then she called her local DA and turned herself in. This is a bonus episode exploring one part of the story from our last episode: Roe v. Wade v. Rubella. Special thanks to Physicians for Reproductive Health for giving us permission to use the 2000 oral history interview with Jane Hodgson.
Roe v. Wade v. Rubella

Roe v. Wade v. Rubella

2019-12-1751:02

The story of how abortion became legal in the United States isn’t as straightforward as many of us think. The common narrative is that feminist activism and the sexual liberation movement in the 1960s led to Roe v. Wade in 1973. But it turns out the path to Roe led over some unexpected and unsettling terrain, and involves a complicated story involving culture, society, disease, and our prejudices and fears about disability. In the 1960s a rubella epidemic swept the United States and panicked every pregnant woman in the country. Rubella, also called German measles, is a disease we hardly remember anymore, but it’s the “R” in the MMR vaccine. Though the virus is relatively harmless for most people, when contracted during pregnancy, it can severely harm the developing fetus. During the epidemic many pregnant women who may have never identified as abortion-rights advocates suddenly found themselves seeking abortions and dismantling barriers to access. Though not everyone agreed with these women, people listened. And this historical moment, sparked by a virus, helped pave the way for the legalization of abortion.
Tune in to our next episode on December 17th.
Come see Distillations LIVE for our Halloween Spooktacular! The show is Wednesday, October 30th at 7pm at the Science History Institute in Old City Philadelphia.
Almost six million people in the United States have been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. And with baby boomers getting older, those numbers are only expected to rise. This disease, despite being studied by scientists for more than 100 years, has no cure. In our two-part series we first dive into the personal lives of the people at the heart of this disease: the patients and their caregivers. Then we uncover why effective treatments for Alzheimer’s lag so far behind those for cancer, heart disease, and HIV. It turns out that for all the decades researchers have been at war with the disease, they’ve also been at war with each other. Credits Hosts: Alexis Pedrick  Reporter: Rigoberto Hernandez Producer: Rigoberto Hernandez Senior Producer: Mariel CarrAudio Engineer: James Morrison Music courtesy of the Audio Network. These songs were used courtesy of Blue Dot Sessions:  "Kalsted,""Stretch of Lonely," "Thin Passage," "Waltz and Fury," "Dash and Slope," "Gilroy Solo," 'House of Grendel," "Uncertain Ground," and "Watercool-Quiet." Research Notes “2019 Alzheimer’s Disease Facts and Figures.” Alzheimer’s Association, 2019. Begley, Sharon. “As Alzheimer’s Drug Developers Give Up on Today’s Patients, Where Is the Outrage?” Stat News. August 15, 2018. Begley, Sharon. “The Maddening Saga of How an Alzheimer’s ‘Cabal’ Thwarted Progress toward a Cure for Decades.” Stat News. June 25, 2019. “Biogen Alzheimer’s Drug Shows Positive Results.” CNBC. July 25, 2018. “The Clinical Trial Journey.” Mayo Clinic. Youtube video. June 5, 2019. Garde, Damian. “Alzheimer’s Study Sparks a New Round of Debate over the Amyloid Hypothesis.” Stat News. July 30, 2018. Hogan, Alex. “The Disappointing History of Alzheimer’s Research.” Stat News. May 21, 2019. Itzhaki, Ruth. “Alzheimer’s Disease: Mounting Evidence That Herpes Virus Is a Cause.” The Conversation. October 19, 2018. Keshavan, Meghana. “On Alzheimer’s, Scientists Head Back to the Drawing Board—and Once-Shunned Ideas Get an Audience.” Stat News. July 22, 2019. Li, Yun. “Biogen Posts It’s the Worst Day in 14 Years after Ending Trial for Blockbuster Alzheimer’s Drug.” CNBC. March 21, 2019.  “Lilly Alzheimer’s Drug Does Not Slow Memory Loss: Study.” CNBC. November 23, 2016.  “The MacNeil/Lehrer Report; Living with Alzheimer’s.” 1983-04-12, National Records and Archives Administration, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (WGBH and the Library of Congress), Boston and Washington, DC, accessed October 16, 2019.  “The MacNeil/Lehrer NewsHour,” 1991-08-16, NewsHour Productions, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (WGBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed October 22, 2019. Makin, Simon. “The Amyloid Hypothesis on Trial.” Nature. July 25, 2018. Prusiner, Stanley. Madness and Memory: The Discovery of Prions—A New Biological Principle of Disease. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2014. Robakis, Nikolaos, et al. “Alzheimer’s Disease: A Re-examination of the Amyloid Hypothesis.” ALZforum.org. March 26, 1998. Shenk, David. “The Forgetting—Alzheimer’s: Portrait of an Epidemic.” New York: Anchor, 2013.  “Virginia Lee and John Trojanowski on the Protein Road Map to Alzheimer’s.” Science Watch. December 2011.
Almost six million people in the United States have been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. And with baby boomers getting older, those numbers are only expected to rise. This disease, despite being studied by scientists for more than 100 years, has no cure. In our two-part series we first dive into the personal lives of the people at the heart of this disease: the patients and their caregivers. Then we uncover why effective treatments for Alzheimer’s lag so far behind those for cancer, heart disease, and HIV. It turns out that for all the decades researchers have been at war with the disease, they’ve also been at war with each other. Credits Hosts: Alexis Pedrick  Reporter: Rigoberto Hernandez Producer: Rigoberto Hernandez Senior Producer: Mariel CarrAudio Engineer: James Morrison Music courtesy of the Audio Network. These songs were used courtesy of Blue Dot Sessions:  "Kalsted,""Stretch of Lonely," "Thin Passage," "Waltz and Fury," "Dash and Slope," "Gilroy Solo," 'House of Grendel," "Uncertain Ground," and "Watercool-Quiet." Research Notes “2019 Alzheimer’s Disease Facts and Figures.” Alzheimer’s Association, 2019. Begley, Sharon. “As Alzheimer’s Drug Developers Give Up on Today’s Patients, Where Is the Outrage?” Stat News. August 15, 2018. Begley, Sharon. “The Maddening Saga of How an Alzheimer’s ‘Cabal’ Thwarted Progress toward a Cure for Decades.” Stat News. June 25, 2019. “Biogen Alzheimer’s Drug Shows Positive Results.” CNBC. July 25, 2018. “The Clinical Trial Journey.” Mayo Clinic. Youtube video. June 5, 2019. Garde, Damian. “Alzheimer’s Study Sparks a New Round of Debate over the Amyloid Hypothesis.” Stat News. July 30, 2018. Hogan, Alex. “The Disappointing History of Alzheimer’s Research.” Stat News. May 21, 2019. Itzhaki, Ruth. “Alzheimer’s Disease: Mounting Evidence That Herpes Virus Is a Cause.” The Conversation. October 19, 2018. Keshavan, Meghana. “On Alzheimer’s, Scientists Head Back to the Drawing Board—and Once-Shunned Ideas Get an Audience.” Stat News. July 22, 2019. Li, Yun. “Biogen Posts It’s the Worst Day in 14 Years after Ending Trial for Blockbuster Alzheimer’s Drug.” CNBC. March 21, 2019.  “Lilly Alzheimer’s Drug Does Not Slow Memory Loss: Study.” CNBC. November 23, 2016.  “The MacNeil/Lehrer Report; Living with Alzheimer’s.” 1983-04-12, National Records and Archives Administration, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (WGBH and the Library of Congress), Boston and Washington, DC, accessed October 16, 2019.  “The MacNeil/Lehrer NewsHour,” 1991-08-16, NewsHour Productions, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (WGBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed October 22, 2019. Makin, Simon. “The Amyloid Hypothesis on Trial.” Nature. July 25, 2018. Prusiner, Stanley. Madness and Memory: The Discovery of Prions—A New Biological Principle of Disease. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2014. Robakis, Nikolaos, et al. “Alzheimer’s Disease: A Re-examination of the Amyloid Hypothesis.” ALZforum.org. March 26, 1998. Shenk, David. “The Forgetting—Alzheimer’s: Portrait of an Epidemic.” New York: Anchor, 2013.  “Virginia Lee and John Trojanowski on the Protein Road Map to Alzheimer’s.” Science Watch. December 2011.
Listen to The Alzheimer's Copernicus Problem on October 22nd. 
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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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