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The "CSI" of Paintings

Many paintings contain secrets hidden to the naked eye. Only after careful analysis can specialists uncover the mysteries hidden underneath the top layers of paint. One long forgotten painting attributed to the 17th-century artist Pietro da Cortona has many strange features only recently revealed. Show More Summary

Distillations Podcast: Trash Talk: The Persistence of Waste

In case you hadn’t noticed, during our short time on Earth we humans have created a lot of stuff. Some of it is life-altering, like the device you’re looking at right now, and some of it is pretty silly, like those plastic, banana-shaped containers made for holding bananas. Show More Summary

Knowledge is often lost through accident, acts of nature, or...

Knowledge is often lost through accident, acts of nature, or obsolescence. Once gone, it’s usually gone forever. But a recent piece in the New York Times offered a rare example of knowledge recovered from natural disaster. Nicholas...Show More Summary

othmeralia: The Othmer Library recently received a wonderful...

othmeralia: The Othmer Library recently received a wonderful donation of 17 various editions of the works of Paul De Kruif.  One of the most amazing things about this comprehensive set of books is that they all have different covers...Show More Summary

In 1900 a treacherous storm forced an expedition of Greek sponge...

In 1900 a treacherous storm forced an expedition of Greek sponge divers off course from their fishing grounds in the Mediterranean. They took shelter near the coast of a remote island, Antikythera. While waiting for the storm to pass, they decided to dive for sponges. Show More Summary

CHF Remembers Carl Djerassi

In a 1985 interview with CHF’s Center for Oral History, Carl Djerassi said, “I feel like I’d like to lead one more life. I’d like to leave a cultural imprint on society rather than just a technological benefit.” Djerassi, who died January 30 in San Francisco at the age of 91, certainly has achieved both of his aims. Show More Summary

The 1950s were pivotal years for both synthetic fertilizers and...

The 1950s were pivotal years for both synthetic fertilizers and organic farming. As synthetic fertilizers— synthetic ammonium nitrates, for example— became more common in agriculture, a small, yet devoted group of American farmers and home gardeners joined a nascent organic movement. Show More Summary

Rube Goldberg’s approach to technology was designed to be...

Rube Goldberg’s approach to technology was designed to be amusing. But behind all the ridiculous impracticality was a truth about much of early -20th-century technology: you could see and interact with the workings of it. Twenty-first-century technology is mostly black boxed, its workings invisible and unknowable by most. Show More Summary

February 18 is National Battery Day. In honor of this day we’re...

February 18 is National Battery Day. In honor of this day we’re offering an excerpt from a magazine piece about an ancestor of the modern battery, the Leyden jar. At its simplest the Leyden jar is a glass bottle that is partly filled...Show More Summary

Randall Munroe, author of the popular math and science webcomic...

Randall Munroe, author of the popular math and science webcomic xkcd, posted a graph about the European Space Agency’s mission to land a probe on a comet last November. The former NASA roboticist pointed out that the most incredible thing about the Rosetta mission wasn’t its unprecedented proximity to a comet, or the decade it took to get there. Show More Summary

You wouldn’t know a limpet had teeth from looking at it. These...

You wouldn’t know a limpet had teeth from looking at it. These soft, squishy sea snails cling to rocks and scrape algae into their mouths, which means their teeth need to be stronger than rock. Last week, a paper in the Royal Society’s journal Interface published the results of a limpet tooth stress test. Show More Summary

Distillations Podcast: Innovation & Obsolescence—The Life, Death, and Occasional Rebirth of Technologies

Some technologies flash in the pan so quickly they hardly leave a trace (Google Glass anyone?); while others seem to stick around long past their use by date. And still other creations appear to be gone for good, only to make a comeback within a niche—and likely nostalgic—community. Show More Summary

Physicists in biology, inverse problems and other quirks of the genomic age

Nobel Laureate Sydney Brenner has criticized systems biology as a grandiose attempt to solve inverse problems in biology Leo Szilard – brilliant, peripatetic Hungarian physicist, habitué of hotel lobbies, soothsayer without peer – first...Show More Summary

Tom Morton-Smith's "Oppenheimer": Slight, trite and unoriginal

J. Robert Oppenheimer was a brilliant, enigmatic and complex man. Any treatment of his life, whether biographical or fictional, must bear the substantial weight of these qualities and capture the triumph and tragedy of his immensely consequential life. Show More Summary

How to recognize (and talk to) a chemophobe

Over the last few years there has been a lot of discussion of chemophobia in the popular press and on blogs. But it seems to me that there have been few summaries of the general features of chemophobia and how to exorcise them. So IShow More Summary

Who made these covers and what are they doing here?

Guest post from Tom Branson It’s a new year and therefore a new set of exciting cover art awaits us. Last year gave us some great examples of artistic flair matched with clear science communication, as well as a good few covers that can be described as nothing but bizarre. Either way, they got my attention. [...]

LEDs and the International Year of Light

Guest post by Jen Dougan ‘May it be a light to you, in dark places. When all other lights go out.’ J. R. R. Tolkien Yesterday saw the opening ceremony to mark the start of the International Year of Light (IYL). Today scientists and policy makers will meet in Paris for day two of the celebrations. [...]

Captain of hooks

Guest post by Rowena Fletcher-Wood Open your eyes and take a closer look: sometimes that’s all it takes to realise a new invention has been with you all along, stuck, perhaps, to the cuffs of your trousers and the fur of your pointer. Like the burrs of the burdock, evolved to stick to the fur of [...]

Time’s running out for your chance to win £500!

Guest post by Isobel Hogg, Royal Society of Chemistry Can you explain the importance of chemistry to human health in just 1 minute? If you’re an early-career researcher who is up to the challenge, making a 1 minute video could win you £500. We are looking for imaginative ways to showcase how chemistry helps us address [...]

The joy of fluorescent proteins

Guest post by Heather Cassell In the lab, you develop a fondness for working with certain things: compliant equipment, pleasant smelling solvents, easy-to-culture bacteria. One of my favourites are fluorescent proteins – their bright colours can make even the dullest day that little bit more cheery. I find them a joy to work with not only [...]

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