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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.
249 Episodes
High Steaks at the Border

High Steaks at the Border


When we think about the U.S.-Mexico border, it’s hard not to think about the current immigration conflict and the contentious idea to build a wall. But the concept of a border wall isn’t new: proposals for walls have been made for more than 100 years. Our story starts in 1947, when a group of Texas ranchers demanded a fence along their state’s border with Mexico. Their motivation, though, was to stop an outbreak of a disease that struck farm animals. The response to the crisis was complicated and often messy. But in the end two countries came together to solve a complex predicament—instead of building a wall.  Credits Hosts: Alexis Pedrick and Elisabeth Berry Drago Senior Producer: Mariel Carr Producers: Rigoberto Hernandez, Alexis Pedrick Photo illustration by Jay Muhlin Music Music courtesy of the Audio Network. Research Notes Cervantes Sanchez, Juan, Roman Diaz, Ana Bertha Velazquez Camacho. “Una historia de vacunos y vacunas: Retrospectiva de la epizootia de Fiebre Aftosa en Mexico a 65 años de distancia.” Revista electronica de Veterinaria 11:B (May 2011). Clements, Kendrick. “Managing a National Crisis: The 1924 Foot-and-Mouth Disease Outbreak in California.” California History84:3 (Spring 2007).  Domel, Jessica. “USDA Expands Fever Tick Fencing in South Texas.” Texas Agriculture Daily, January 2, 2019.  Dusenberry William. “Foot and Mouth Disease in Mexico, 1946-1951.” Agricultural History 29:2 (April 1955).  Fox, M. Kel. “The Campaign against Foot-and-Mouth Disease in Mexico, 1946-1951.” Journal of Arizona History 38:1 (Spring 1997).  Ledbetter, John. “Fighting Foot-and-Mouth Disease in Mexico: Popular Protest against Diplomatic Decisions.” The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, 104:(3), (January 2001). Machado, A. Manuel. “Aftosa and the Mexican-United States Sanitary Convention of 1928.” Agricultural History 39:4. (October 1965).  Mendoza, Mary. "Battling Afotsa: North-to-South Migration Accross the U.S.-Mexico Border, 1947-1954." Journal of the West, 54:1 (Winter 2015).  Mendoza, Mary. “Treacherous Terrain: Racial Exclusion and Environmental Control at the U.S.-Mexico Border.” Environmental History 23 (January 2018).  Mulvey, Ruth. “Cattle Killing Turns Peon against Doctor.” The Washington Post, January 4, 1948.   Outbreak. Department of Agriculture, Office of Public Affairs. 1949. Proctor, George. “An American Tragedy in Mexico: The Death of Robert Proctor.” Journal of Arizona History38:4 (1997).   Sill Wickware, Francis. “Crusade in Mexico.” Collier’s, August 20, 1949.  “Texas Cattle Fever.” U.S.Department of Agriculture, National Agricultural Library. 
When Mexico and the United States resolved their beef. 
Making the Deserts Bloom

Making the Deserts Bloom


In the late 1950s a Texas town on the Gulf of Mexico was suffering from a devastating, decade-long drought. But while the wells ran dry, the ocean lapped at the town’s shore, taunting the thirsty residents with its endless supply of undrinkable water. Undrinkable, that is, until President John F. Kennedy stepped in to save the day with the promise of science. The evolving technology of desalination wouldn’t just end droughts: it would give us as much water as we wanted. It would allow us to inhabit otherwise uninhabitable places. It would let us make the deserts bloom. But at what cost? Credits Hosts: Alexis Pedrick and Elisabeth Berry Drago Senior Producer: Mariel Carr Producers: Rigoberto Hernandez, Alexis Pedrick Reporter: Rigoberto Hernandez Photo illustration by Jay Muhlin Music Music courtesy of the Audio Network.  Research Notes Barringer, Felicity. “As ‘Yuck Factor’ Subsides, Treated Wastewater Flows from Taps.” New York Times, February 9, 2012.  Burnett, John. “When the Sky Ran Dry.” Texas Monthly, July 2012.  “Countries Who Rely on Desalination.” World Atlas.  Gies, Erica. “Desalination Breakthrough: Saving the Sea from Salt.” Scientific American, June 6, 2016. “Is Desalination the Future of Drought Relief in California?” PBS NewsHour, October 30, 2015. Jaehnig, Kenton, and Jacob Roberts. “Nor Any Drop to Drink.” Distillations, November 2018. Leahy, Stephen, and Katherine Purvis. “Peak Salt: Is the Desalination Dream over for the Gulf States?” Guardian, September 29, 2016. Madrigal, Alexis. “The Many Failures and Few Successes of Zany Iceberg Towing Schemes.” Atlantic, August 10, 2011. Miller, Joanna M. “Desalting Plant Opens Amid Surplus.” Los Angeles Times, February 23, 1992. “President Hails Desalting Plant; He Flips Switch to Dedicate Water Project in Texas.” New York Times, June 22, 1961.  Pulwarty, Roger, John Wiener, and David Ware. “Bite without Bark: How the Socioeconomic Context of the 1950s U.S. Drought Minimized Responses to a Multiyear Extreme Climate Event.” Weather and Climate Extremes 11 (2016): 80–94. Rivard, Ry. “The Desalination Plant Is Finished but the Debate over It Isn’t.” Voice of San Diego, August 30, 2016.  “San Diego’s Oversupply of Water Reaches a New, Absurd Level.” Voice of San Diego, February 2, 2016.  “With the Drought Waning, the Future of Desalination Is Murkier.” Voice of San Diego, June 5, 2017. “The Year in San Diego Water Wars.” Voice of San Diego, December 29, 2015. Simon, Matt. “Desalination Is Booming. But What about All That Toxic Brine.” Wired, January, 14, 2019. “The 1976–1977 California Drought: A Review.” California Department of Water Resources, May 1978. Voutchkov, Nikolay. “Desalination—Past, Present and Future.” International Water Association, August 17, 2016.  Video Archive “The California Drought 1976–77: A Two Year History” (video). California Department of Water Resources. “The MacNeil/Lehrer Report; Drought in the West.” Broadcast on February 11, 1977. National Records and Archives Administration, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (WGBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA, and Washington, DC, accessed March 19, 2019. “White House Today (1961).” Lake Jackson Historical Museum, 1961. Texas Archive of the Moving Image.
This Valentine’s Day we could have just brought you some sappy love stories from science’s past. But instead we offer you three tales of lust, loneliness, betrayal, pettiness, and not one, but two beheadings. Credits Hosts: Alexis Pedrick and Elisabeth Berry Drago Senior Producer: Mariel Carr Producer: Rigoberto Hernandez Reporters: Alexis Pedrick and Elisabeth Berry Drago Audio Engineer: James Morrison Photo illustration by Jay Muhlin Additional audio production by Dan Drago Music Music courtesy of the Audio Network Research Notes Martha Drinnan “Is Laurel Hill Haunted?” Laurel Hill Cemetery Blog, Laurel Hill Cemetery, Philadelphia, April 30, 2018. Sherman, Conger. Guide to Laurel Hill Cemetery, Near Philadelphia, 1847. Philadelphia: C. Sherman, 1847. Strauss, Robert. “Grave Sights.” Philadelphia Inquirer, October 29, 2010. It's a Thin Line Between Love and Hate Duveen, Denis. “Madame Lavoisier 1758–1836. Chymia 5 (1953): 13–29. Everts, Sarah. “Acknowledging Madame Lavoisier.” Artful Science (blog), C&EN, June 1, 2011. Hoffmann, Roald. “Mme. Lavoisier.” Scientific American 90 (2002): 22–24. “The Human Side of Science: Edison and Tesla, Watson and Crick, and Other Personal Stories behind Science’s Big Ideas (2016).” “Marie-Anne Paulze Lavoisier.” Wikipedia, accessed February 11, 2019. Touched by the Angels Clucas, Stephen, ed. John Dee: Interdisciplinary Studies in English Renaissance Thought. Dordrecht: Springer, 2006. Dee, John. The Compendious Rehearsal. London: Thomas Hearne, 1726. British Library (website), Collection Items. Harkness, Deborah. John Dee’s Conversations with Angels: Cabala, Alchemy, and the End of Nature. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006. In, Mystical Metal of Gold: Essays on Alchemy and Renaissance Culture, edited by Stanton J. Linden, 35–79. New York: AMS, 2007. Sherman, William Howard. John Dee: The Politics of Reading and Writing in the English Renaissance. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1997.
Egyptian scriptures from 1200 BCE describe painful, migraine-like headaches, so we know the disorder has afflicted people for at least three thousand years. Still, the condition continues to mystify us today. Anne Hoffman is a reporter, a professor, and a chronic migraine sufferer. She spent the past year tracing the history of migraines, hoping to discover clues about a treatment that actually works for her. The journey took her in some interesting directions. One common theme she found? A whole lot of stigma. Credits Hosts: Alexis Pedrick and Elisabeth Berry Drago Senior Producer: Mariel Carr Producer: Rigoberto Hernandez Reporter: Anne Hoffman Photo illustration by Jay Muhlin Additional audio production by Dan Drago Music Theme music composed by Zach Young. "Valantis" and "Valantis Vespers" by Blue Dot Sessions, courtesy of the Free Music Archive. Additional music courtesy of the Audio Network. Research Notes Interviews Matthew Crawford, Doan Fellow, Science History Institute. Margaret Heaney, professor of neurobiology, Columbia University Irving Medical Center. Joanna Kempner, sociologist and author of Not Tonight: Migraine and the Politics of Gender and Health. Anne MacGregor, medical researcher and clinician. Brian McGeeney, assistant professor of neurology, Boston University School of Medicine.  Sources Brooklyn Museum, Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art. “Hildegarde of Bingen.” McClory, Robert. “Hildegard of Bingen: No Ordinary Saint.” National Catholic Reporter, March 24, 2012. Meares, Hadley. “The Medieval Prophetess Who Used Her Visions to Criticize the Church.” Atlas Obscura, July 13, 2016. PBS Frontline. “Hildegard’s Scivias.” Songfacts. Für Hildegard Von Bingen. Wikipedia. “Scivias.” Last modified October 23, 2018, Cannabidiol (CBD): Bazelot, Michaël, Chen Tong, Ibeas Bih, Dallas Mark, Clementino Nunn, Alistair V. W. Whalley Benjamin. “Molecular Targets of Cannabidiol in Neurological Disorders.” Neurotherapeutics 12 (2015): 699–730. Chen, Angus. “Some of the Parts: Is Marijuana’s ‘Entourage Effect’ Scientifically Valid?” Scientific American, April 20, 2017. Grinspoon, Peter. “Cannabidiol (CBD)—What We Know and What We Don’t.” Harvard Health Blog, Harvard Health Publishing, Harvard Medical School, August 24, 2018. Science Vs. “CBD: Weed Wonder Drug?” Podcast audio, November 15, 2018.. Migraine: Kempner, Joanna. “The Birth of the Dreaded ‘Migraine Personality.’” Migraine Again, November 30, 2017. Neighmond, Patti. “Why Women Suffer More Migraines Than Men.” Shots: Health News from NPR, National Public Radio, April 16, 2012. Peterlin, B. Lee, Saurabh Gupta, Thomas N. Ward, and Anne MacGregor. “Sex Matters: Evaluating Sex and Gender in Migraine and Headache Research.” Headache 51(6) (2011): 839–842. Sharkey, Lauren. “Why Don’t We Know More about Migraines?” BBC Future, British Broadcasting Corporation, July 2, 2018. Wikipedia. “Aretaeus of Cappadocia.” Last modified December 6, 2018. Cannabis for Migraine: Mandal, Ananya. “Migraine History.” News-Medical, August 23, 2018. MDede. “Are Cannabinoids and Hallucinogens Viable Treatment Options for Headache Relief?” Neurology Reviews 22(5) (2014): 22–23. Available at MDedge, Clinical Neurology News. Archival: Grass—The History of Marijuana. Directed by Ron Mann. Toronto: Sphinx Productions, 1999. Hildegard of Bingen. Directed by James Runcie. London: British Broadcasting Corporation, 1994. Reefer Madness. Directed by Louis J. Gasnier. Los Angeles: George A. Hirliman Productions, 1938.
Happy holidays from all of us here at Distillations. This holiday season our gift to you is a sneak peak at some of the stories we have in the works for 2019.
In April 1988 Harvard University was awarded a patent that was the first of its kind. U.S. Patent Number 4,736,866 was small, white, and furry, with red beady eyes. His name was OncoMouse. The mouse, genetically engineered to have a predisposition for cancer, allowed researchers to study the disease in an intact living organism. It promised to transform cancer research, but not everyone was happy. Most critics were wary of patenting life forms at all. But academic scientists were also worried about the collision of commercial and academic science. It forced them to face difficult questions: Who should pay for science? Who does scientific knowledge belong to? And should science be for the good of the public or for profit? Credits Hosts: Alexis Pedrick and Elisabeth Berry Drago. Senior Producer: Mariel Carr Producer: Rigoberto Hernandez Reporter: Jessie Wright-Mendoza   Photo illustration by Jay Muhlin. Additional audio production by Dan Drago. Music Additional music courtesy of the Audio Network.  Research Notes Interviews: Elizabeth Popp Berman, Associate Professor of Sociology, SUNY Albany, and author of Creating the Market University: How Academic Science Became an Economic Engine. David Einhorn, House Counsel, Jackson Laboratory. Harold Varmus, Professor of Medicine, Weill Cornell Medicine. Ken Paigen, Executive Research Fellow and Professor, Jackson Laboratory. Sources:  Adler, Jerry. “The First Patented Animal Is Still Leading the Way on Cancer Research.” Smithsonian Magazine, December 2016.  Chakrabarty, Ananda. Microorganisms having multiple compatible degradative energy-generating plasmids and preparation thereof. U.S. Patent 4259444A, filed June 7, 1981, and issued March 31, 1981.  Diamond v. Chakrabarty, 447 U.S. 303 (1980). “Fortune Names Its ’88 Products of the Year.” Associated Press, November 17, 1988.  Hanahan, Douglas, Erwin Wagner, and Richard Palmiter. “The Origins of Oncomice: A History of the First Transgenic Mice Genetically Engineered to Develop Cancer.” Genes and Development 21 (2007), 2258–2270. Leder, Philip, and Timothy Stewart. Transgenic non-human mammals. U.S. Patent 4736866A, filed June 22, 1984, and issued April 12, 1988.  Leonelli, Sabina, and Rachel Ankeny. “Re-Thinking Organisms: The Impact of Databases on Model Organism Biology.” Working paper, University of Exeter, April 5, 2011. Published in Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part C 43:1 (2012), 29–36. Morse, Herbert C. III, ed. Origins of Inbred Mice. New York: Academic Press, 1978. Google Books. Murray, Fiona. “The Oncomouse That Roared: Resistance and Accommodation to Patenting in Academic Science.” Working paper, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 2006. Published in American Journal of Sociology 116:2 (2010), 341–388. National Association for Biomedical Research. “Mice and Rats.” Mice and Rats. Washington, DC, 2018. National Museum of American History. “OncoMouse.” Washington, DC, 2018. Palmer, Brian. “Jonas Salk: Good at Virology, Bad at Economics.” Slate, April 13, 2014. Rader, Karen. “The Mouse People: Murine Genetics Work at the Bussey Institution, 1909–1936.” Journal of the History of Biology 31:3 (Autumn 1998), 327–354.  Russell, Elizabeth. “Origins and History of Mouse Inbred Strains: Contributions of Clarence Cook Little.” Jackson Laboratory, Bar Harbor, Maine. Schneider, Keith. “New Animal Forms Will Be Patented.” New York Times, April 17, 1987. Specter, Michael. “Can We Patent Life?” New Yorker, April 1, 2013.  Archival Sources: Achbar, Mark, and Jennifer Abbott, dir. The Corporation. Canada: Big Picture Media Corporation, 2003.  Albert and Mary Lasker Foundation. “Lasker Archives: Passion and Optimism in Scientific Research.” April 9, 2017, On the 1987 Albert Lasker Basic Medical Research Award. Murrow, Edward. See It Now (Jonas Salk). CBS, April 12, 1955. Potter, Deborah, and Dan Rather. “Animal Patents.” CBS Evening News, April 12, 1988. Ronald Reagan Presidential Library. “Candidacy for Presidency: Ronald Reagan’s Announcement for President of U.S.” November 13, 1979.
Tune in to the next episode of Distillations on November 20th!
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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