Locusta was one of the first recorded professional chemists. She was employed by several royal Romans, and even established a school for other chemists. Here’s why it was best not to piss off either her or her students. »
In the 1940s, scientists came up with a “Standard Man” or “Reference Man” to help explain what different radiation exposures would do to a human. That was expanded to the Reference Woman and Reference Child. Now there is a small group of Reference Animals. Learn what made the cut.
One present to the King of Prussia launched an industry that, if current experts are to be believed, will kill us all. Learn how a pharmacist started a factory that has caused the destruction of many, and the enrichment of a few.
Antibiotics are something that, today, are taken for granted. This wasn’t always the case. The first patient to get antibiotics shows us how an incredibly minor injury can go bad, and how the road to antibiotic use wasn’t smooth even when scientists knew it worked.
Uranium and plutonium have gotten famous, or infamous, because they are used in atom bombs. We could have been saying that about another material—one that few actually know. Learn about the material that didn’t quite make it into The Bomb. »
If you think America is unpopular in the world now, listen to some of the stuff they said about the country (and continent) in the late 1700s. European scientists came up with the “Theory of Degeneracy” to explain how terrible America was.
Today we bend Clostridium botulinum to our will, forcing it to make our faces smoother and our actors less able to do their jobs. Once, though, people had no idea what caused the “sausage disease.” It took two good men and one bad dinner to let the world know what was going on. »
We know Johann Wolfgang von Goethe was a German writer and poet. He was also an amateur botanist, and his interest and connections led to the discovery of the chemical you crave every single morning.
Much of the cough syrup on the shelves today owes a little something to the US Navy and the CIA. One of its main effective ingredients was developed by a project funded by both agencies. Learn why.
William Buckland was a man of many achievements—most of them poop-centered. No one would be more proud of this than William Buckland. »
I’m going to show you the last thing a rabbit ever saw. It, in turn, will show you why Victorian-era people believed that a murder victim’s eyes contained a “photograph” of the person who murdered them. »
There wasn’t much to be done about syphilis for most of its history. It was a horrible, slow way to die and the only way to ward off the most acute attacks was mercury—until a dye and a poison provided the inspiration for an effective treatment. »
Michael Faraday is best remembered as a scientist. But during his time, he was also a scientific investigator—looking into the origins of explosions and accidents. After one great tragedy he filed a safety report that’s still remembered today, but made no impression at the time.
Pierre-Simon Laplace lived from 1749 to 1827 and was busy the entire time. He wrote books, worked in politics, and figured out the secrets of the universe. One of those secrets he quietly withdrew from later copies of his books. Pity. »
When did people first know about the phenomenon now known as “acid rain”? Think of a date. Odds are, you’re off by at least a century. »
Allergic to penicillin? Then you could be shot full of something that came out of a Sardinian sewer. Here’s the backstory of the important medicine that we found floating around in our own feces. »
There is about an ounce of francium in the Earth’s crust. It’s the most unstable of the first 101 elements. It lasts only 45 seconds longer than an episode of Archer. So how did anyone discover it? »
The gutting of Germany’s intellectual heritage is far from the worst crime committed by the Nazis, but it was a crime nonetheless. The irony is it was a crime that contributed to their loss of the war. But it also robbed the country of its intellectual riches decades after the war was over.
The Chicago River used to drain into Lake Michigan. Now it drains into the very top of the Mississippi watershed. The reversal of drainage was the end product of a century of effort. When people find out why, the city of Chicago did this, they tend to wonder why the city waited so long