Monday, October 10, 2016
Plague, Famine, and Death: The Terrifying History of Comets
Darin Hayton, Haverford College
For millennia, comets were unusual and unpredictable events. They appeared in the sky but were not part of the celestial realm of constellations and planets. Instead, they were thought to occur at the upper edge of the atmosphere. Comets were, consequently, a sort of terrestrial phenomena that demanded both investigation and interpretation. The history of efforts to explain the causes and effects of comets offers a fascinating glimpse at how people observed and understood the natural world. After an overview of that history, Hayton will focus on a couple examples that reveal the various deadly effects of comets.
Monday, September 12, 2016
The Destruction of the Bison
Andrew C. Isenberg, Temple University
In 1800, there were perhaps 30 million bison in the North American Great Plains. Within a century, their number had fallen to fewer than 1,000. The decline was so steep and rapid that the old interpretation of it—the wastefulness of American hunters—cannot fully explain it. A host of factors contributed to the decline: drought, competition for rangelands by domestic livestock, wolf predation, exotic bovine disease; the degradation of river valley habitats by Euro-American emigrants, and the pressure of both Euro-American and Native American hunters. These anthropogenic and environmental causes of bison mortality were inextricably connected. Like most factors that contributed to the near-extinction of the bison, they resulted from the complex interaction of human society with the dynamic environment of the western Great Plains.
Those interactions began in the mid-eighteenth century, when some American Indian societies on the fringes of the grasslands adopted the use of the horse to hunt the bison of the western Great Plains. Horses not only facilitated an increased harvest of the bison, but they competed with the bison for scarce forage. The interconnections continued in the mid-nineteenth century, when increased numbers of cattle and sheep in the Canadian and American Great Plains led to the degradation of the bison’s range and the transmission of exotic bovine disease to local populations of bison. In the 1870s, the United States government permitted–indeed, encouraged—Euro-American hunters to destroy the bison to deny the resource to Indians of the western plains and open the grassland to Euro-American settlement. In the early twentieth century, preservationists in league with ranchers in the American and Canadian West saved the bison from extinction but contributed to the domestication of the species by confining them to managed preserves.
Monday, July 11, 2016
For Science! Four Tales of Body-snatching, Organ Collecting, and Fraud in 19th Century Philadelphia
Evi Numen, Mütter Museum of The College of Physicians of Philadelphia
How did physicians, resurrectionists and collectors evade the law in 19th century Philadelphia? And why? Philadelphia was a buzzing medical center in the late 19th century. With the flood of the weary, injured, and disabled veterans of the American Civil War, the need for hospitals and well-educated physicians increased tenfold. Medical schools sprouted, admissions rose, and with them the demand for bodies; cadavers for dissection and specimens for the classroom and research. Since lawful supply didn’t meet the high demand, anatomists, students and collectors had to resort to some rather questionable means to resolve that deficit. A one-eyed horse thief becomes the epicenter of a national scandal post-mortem, a “petrified body” is donated to a local museum, a fetal specimen is obtained from a dying woman, and a jar of anonymous epileptic brains raise questions about the how these specimens were collected and the scientific studies they were collected for.
Monday, June 13, 2016
Eat Well With This One Trick: The Enzyme Craze of the 19th Century
Lisa Haushofer, Chemical Heritage Foundation
People in the past had radically different ideas about eating, and about what happened to food inside their bodies. Science contributed to shaping those ideas, and commercial health foods were a vehicle through which ordinary people literally consumed changing scientific ideas about the body. Follow historian of medicine and food Lisa Haushofer on a fascinating journey to explore arguably the most popular food fad of the nineteenth century – so-called artificially digested or enzyme-enriched foods. These foods, and the concepts of disease and the body they encapsulated, offer a glimpse of what it might have been like to eat and digest as a Victorian. How different or similar were nineteenth century ideas about eating and digesting to our own, and what might that tell us about ourselves? Come and explore the world of food fads before Atkins and Gwyneth Paltrow.
Monday, May 9, 2016
How to Mount a Dinosaur… In a Synchrotron
Jennifer Anné, Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University
Paleontology has been revitalized with the onslaught of new technological applications of physics, chemistry and computer engineering. Old bones are brought back to new light as even the scrappiest fossil can unleash a suite of hidden information only available in the 21st century. Dr. Jennifer Anné will be highlighting some of her exciting work in utilizing one of the most powerful (and sci-fi like) machines, the synchrotron, to do everything from diagnosing dinosaur diseases, to what makes a manatee big boned.
Monday, April 11, 2016
Microworlds: Art and Science Through the Microscope
Featuring James Hayden, Wistar Institute
The world around us can be smaller than you think. Take a journey down through the microscope and explore the living (and not-so-living) world found at the cellular level. Imaging is an integral part of most scientific exploration and Dr. Hayden will guide you through some of the ways that microscopes are used to collect scientific data, or record simple observations. From stereomicroscopes to 2-Photon confocal systems, see the ways imaging helps to answer unique questions in biological research. As an added bonus, he will also use his instrumentation to take a closer look at the contents in your bar glasses!
Monday, March 14, 2016
Epigenetics and the creation of brain sex differences
Featuring Bridget Nugent, University of Pennsylvania
Sex differences in brain structure and function control sex differences in behavior, physiology, and disease risk across animal taxa and in humans. How are male and female brains different and how are these differences established during development? Bridget Nugent from the University of Pennsylvania will describe her work illustrating how hormones and epigenetic processes team up to program sex differences in the developing brain to create life-long brain feminization and masculinization.
Monday, February 8, 2016
Hot Lights, Sharp Steel, Cold Flesh
Featuring Marianne Hamel, Jersey Shore Forensics
Depictions of forensic pathologists and medical examiners in popular media tend to focus on convoluted cases, serial killers, and medical examiners that interrogate living suspects. The reality is something quite different and, actually, much more compelling. “Hot Lights, Sharp Steel, Cold Flesh” examines the realities, limitations, and implications of the forensic autopsy.
Monday, January 11, 2016
Gas on Tap: Loony Gas and the History and Science of Gasoline
Featuring Raechel Lutz, Rutgers University
During the 1920s, gasoline emerged as new fuel of the future, one that could power automobiles and help create modern life, but this type of gasoline required making a devil’s bargain with a substance known to be toxic: lead. A lead additive, tetraethyl-lead, reduced the knock in engines and increased the amount of power available gasoline. The oil industry was quick to produce the additive and begin selling “Ethyl Gasoline” at pump stations in the early 1920s. In 1924, however, several workers died and others went insane from exposure to the additive at two production plants in New Jersey. Called “loony gas,” the additive sparked controversy and concern for public health, yet lead was continually used in gasoline in the United States until the 1970s. Why was lead added to gasoline instead of another compound? What advantages and disadvantages were weighed in deciding to use the product? At this talk, we’ll explore the story of “loony gas” and these questions within the complex science and history of gasoline.
Monday, December 14, 2015
When it Rains, it Pours!
Featuring Clyde Goulden, Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University
From November 30th to December 11th, world leaders will convene in a suburb of Paris to discuss climate action. The 21st United Nations Conference on climate change, called COP21, is sure to draw equal parts controversy and praise. What role do scientists play in all of this? Dr. Clyde Goulden, who researches rain changes, will present an overview of his research on global rainfall and his reactions to the talks.
Monday, November 9, 2015
Going Wild in the City: The Evolution of Attitudes Toward Urban Evolution
Featuring Karen Snetselaar, Professor of Biology at Saint Joseph’s University
Several hundred years ago the wilderness was a frightening place where people might be banished to die alone, with no human support. The romantic idea of wilderness as a place where we go to get away from the cares of civilization is more recent and still prevails today. In neither of these very different views of wilderness is there a permanent place for people! And a conviction that wilderness (or true nature) can exist only without human interference has greatly influenced scientific investigations as well as vacation planning. Until quite recently, human-dominated ecosystems weren’t considered proper venues for mainstream ecology.
One can argue that serious challenges to this narrow view really began with the environmental movement of the 1960’s and 70’s, and it has become increasingly difficult to claim that there are places on the planet not impacted by human activity. Urban ecology and related fields are now much more widely accepted as appropriate and important scientific disciplines. After a discussion of how we finally got here, we’ll consider how this is changing our view of urban environments and leading to increased respect for the wild things found there.
Monday, October 12, 2015
Cancer Science: The Quest for a Cure
Featuring Pat Morin, Senior Director of Scientific Review and Grants Administration at the American Association of Cancer Research
Cancer. It’s only one word, yet we now know it represents more than 200 diseases. In 1907, it was a death sentence. In that year, 11 physicians and scientists came up with a novel idea to collaborate to prevent and cure cancer. They established the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR), which is headquartered right here in Philadelphia.
Today, we are still on a quest for that cure. So much progress has occurred, yet nearly 600,000 Americans still die from cancer each year. Join this month’s Science on Tap to learn about cancer science history, the trials and tribulations of scientific promise and failure. And hear about today’s latest advancements in personalized medicine and immunotherapy. There has never been a more exciting time in cancer research and treatment. Pat Morin, PhD, of the AACR will explain, in simple terms, the current state of cancer research, and will highlight the latest and greatest in our quest to identify cures for this insidious disease.
Monday, July 13, 2015
The History of the Chemical Elements for (Big) Kids
Featuring Adrian Dingle, chemistry educator, author, and 2015 Société de Chimie Industrielle Fellow at the Chemical Heritage Foundation
The National Science Education Standards says that “The natural and designed world is complex; it is too large and complicated to investigate and comprehend all at once. Scientists and students learn to define small portions for the convenience of investigation… referred to as ‘systems’.” We know that the periodic table is one such system, but the methods for teaching it range from rote memorization to endless rounds of flashcards to chanting the elements call-and-response style. School is out, so what better time to think of a fun way to teach this concept? Join CHF Fellow, Adrian Dingle, as he talks about his most recent project, a children’s book about the history of the chemical elements. Learn a few fascinating facts behind the discovery of some of the elements, all delivered from an easy to follow kids perspective – oh, and with beer, too!
Monday, June 8, 2015
Join the DarkSide: Dark Matter Matters
Featuring Christina Love, Assistant Teaching Professor in the Department of Physics at Drexel University
Dark matter makes up over 80% of all the matter in the universe. We don’t know what it is. We can indirectly see dark matter by the gravity that it produces, but we have yet to directly detect it. There are three ways that researchers are currently looking for dark matter: particle detectors, particle accelerators, and excess particles.
Monday, May 11, 2015
Why We (and Weebles) Wobble but Don’t Fall Down
Featuring Tonia Hsieh, Assistant Professor of Biology at Temple University.
As you traverse the hazard-filled streets of Philadelphia on a daily basis, have you ever had to think about how you will step on and off a sidewalk, dexterously avoid a pothole, or simply stay upright and not fall down while walking? Though it might seem automatic to you, it turns out that moving through our natural and built environments is no easy feat. Movement is something that all animals do, and often in amazingly acrobatic ways. Ask a robot to do it, however, and it will often struggle and fall over the simplest obstacles. This talk will reveal some mysteries of animal locomotion that allow us to move through the world with grace and composure (most of the time). It will also show how integrating biology into robotics is enabling ever deeper insights into both biology and robotic design.
Monday, April 13, 2015
The Lost World of Plant Monsters: Animal-Plants, Stone-Plants, and Other Categorical Challenges
Featuring Lynnette Regouby, Mellon Post-Doctoral Fellow at the American Philosophical Society Museum.
Stone-Plants. Animal-Plants. Sensitive Plants. Eighteenth-century natural history was populated with categories that we no longer recognize but that at the time presented serious challenges to classification. This talk revisits a world of plant monsters, whose ability to walk, to feed, or to feel, breeched the boundaries between animal and vegetable kingdoms and helped to revise what it means to be a plant, a human, or something in between.
Monday, March 9, 2015
Shots for Spots and Want-It-Nots: Measles, Measles Vaccine, and Refusers
Featuring Karie Youngdahl, Director of the History of Vaccines project.
The recent measles outbreak stemming from exposures at Disneyland has focused attention on this disease that was eliminated from the United States in 2000. Karie Youngdahl, director of the History of Vaccines project, will put the current outbreak in historical context by looking at the epidemiology of measles over time and attempts at immunizing for measles from the mid-1700s. She will also discuss resistance to vaccination and the ways that arguments against vaccine have been made by anti-vaccinators from Edward Jenner’s time to now.
Monday, February 9, 2015
Guano Happens: A Illustrated History of Fertilizers in America.
Featuring Timothy Johnson, the Allington Dissertation Fellow at the Chemical Heritage Foundation for 2014-15 and a Ph.D. candidate in history at the University of Georgia.
In late summer 2014, some 400,000 residents of Toledo, Ohio lost access to tap water because of a massive bloom of toxic cyanobacteria in Lake Erie. Every summer, similar events occur in watersheds that drain regions where soils are saturated with chemical fertilizers on farms and lawns. If humans are responsible for this annual toxic tide, why has it been so hard to stop it? In this talk, Timothy Johnson will discuss the environmental history of chemical fertilizers in the United States, exploring topics as diverse as guano islands, explosives production, and comic books to show how fertilizers became an indispensable tool for farmers, in spite of the considerable costs they have incurred.
Monday, January 12, 2015
The Floor is Lava (Literally): The Do’s and Don’ts of Volcanology
Featuring Loÿc Vanderkluysen, Ph.D., Assistant Professor, Department of Biodiversity, Earth & Environmental Science, Drexel University
Every year, an average of 60 volcanoes erupt worldwide; approximately 15 of these eruptions have the potential to disrupt air traffic and cause widespread destruction. The practical consequences of these damaging effects made front-page news in 2010, following the eruptions of Eyjafjallajökull volcano in Iceland (which caused extensive air traffic disruptions and flight cancellations), and Merapi volcano in Indonesia (during which 353 people were killed, and 350,000 were displaced). These events highlighted the need for novel and improved real-time volcano monitoring tools. In this presentation, Dr Vanderkluysen will talk about current eruptions in Hawaii and elsewhere across the globe, recent technological developments in volcano monitoring, and volcanic surveillance in the United States.