Chemical Heritage Foundation

The people of the Chemical Heritage Foundation are stewards of the objects, ideas and stories that chronicle humanity's drive to understand the material world through experimentation. If you connect to our passion for sharing this legacy, we hope you'll add your perspective to the content here and pass it along to your online communities.


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    Nye Tries to Burn Ham

    Neil Gussman

    At 7 p.m. on Tuesday, February 4, Bill Nye “The Science Guy” and Ken Ham, CEO of the Creation Museum debate at the Creation Museum. The debate can be watched at

    Our magazine reviewed the museum a while back. Kelly Tuttle, the reviewer, found the place dull, for reasons you can explore here.

    If you decide to watch, you will, in effect, be participating in the meta-debate about whether Bill Nye should participate. The conventional wisdom among the scientific community is not to participate in debates with Creationists. The scientist is at a disadvantage because the creationist is reasoning back from a conclusion, so is less constrained by facts than the scientist. Furthermore, the debate format itself promotes a false equivalency between the two positions, similar to a doctor of immunology debating Jenny McCarthy on vaccination. 

    The physics that demonstrate the age of the universe stem from Einstein’s work on relativity and have been verified by a century of experimental physics. The Creationist position sets the age of the earth and the universe by adding dates in the Old Testament and then revising science to fit. 

    The debate will be a chance to observe the tension between science and a subculture hostile to science—while using satellite technology, solid state electronics, and many other products of the very science that subculture denies.  It should be fascinating.

    Telling (True) Tales


    By Michal Meyer

    Editor, Chemical Heritage Magazine

    I haven’t read comics since I was 10. I tried a few graphic novels—Maus was the most memorable, but even it did not make much impression. I came to the conclusion that I must be so word obsessed that images added nothing to a story, even a non-fiction story such as Maus.

    History tells a different story. There was a time when comics had a different kind of superhero, the doctor or scientist who overcame enormous odds to make the breakthrough discovery or find a cure. In “Stories of the Great Chemists,” Bert Hansen and Boaz N. Adler tell how science-themed comics influenced a generation of children in the 1950s and 1960s. The trials and tribulations of scientific heroes—such as Lavoisier, Pasteur, Curie—and their road to eventual success inspired some of the children to pursue science as adults.

    For science to appear in comics it must be part of the public culture. “Graphic Knowledge” charts how newspapers, magazines, and comics brought science into popular culture. This story begins with four New Jersey boys bitten by a possibly rabid dog in 1885. The media turned what was a local story into a national one by following the boys on their trip to Paris, their receiving the new Pasteur vaccine, and their triumphant return to the Unites States. 

    Before knowledge must come the desire for knowledge. What drove me to study science at university was not theories or facts but true stories about scientists on a quest for knowledge. The quest is an old storytelling form, one still going strong. Most of the Indiana Jones movies follow the format in which the hero (less often a heroine) goes on a journey of discovery (this can take place in a lab), faces opposition (other scientists, badly-behaved equipment, dead ends), and finally triumphs (a cure is found, new fields of knowledge open up).

    The quest for knowledge can make compelling reading. Richard Holmes talks about the adventures of some early balloonists in his new book, Falling Upwards: How We Took to the Air. Science as entertainment or entertainment as part of science also has a history.

    But when it comes to heroes we now live in a more skeptical age. We don’t quite trust heroes. Enter a new age of graphic novels and graphic nonfiction. Jonathan Fetter-Vorm’s recent Trinity: A Graphic History of the First Atomic Bomb changed my mind about the marriage of word and image. Each builds on the strengths of the other—drawings heighten the emotional power of the text while visual metaphors enlighten scientific explanations. 

    Trinity is not a simple of story of heroes overcoming obstacles on their way to ultimate success. There are too many dead bodies for that. It is historical nonfiction driven by powerful visual and literary storytelling instincts.

    How to make science engaging to kids and even adults is a perennial question. Telling stories has always been one answer. I don’t know if Trinity will inspire anyone to go on to study science, but it might well inspire them to look more deeply into the history of science. It’s a start.

    Jonathan Fetter-Vorm and Bert Hansen will be telling true stories at CHF on January 22, and you are invited to watch via webcast. “Drawing History: Telling the Stories of Science through Comics and Graphic Novels” will air at 6:30 p.m. EST. Watch it live at

    Nov. 20th #HistChem Webcast: “Why the Chicken Became a Nugget and Other Tales of Processed Food”

    On November 20, 2013, the Chemical Heritage Foundation will present a live #HistChemwebcast that takes a historical look at how humanity has shifted its expectations about food, from fresh and flavorful to fast and frugal.

    The webcast will air at 6 p.m. eastern time at Guests will include historian Bryant Simon and sociologist David Schleifer

    Simon is the author of Everything but the Coffee: Learning about America from Starbucks and Boardwalk of Dreams: Atlantic City and the Fate of Urban America. He is now working on a broad ranging study of the high costs of cheap food.

    Schleifer earned his Ph.D. in sociology from New York University. He researches health care, food, science, and technology. He is writing a book proposal based on his dissertation, “What Happened to Trans Fats?” which explains one of the most significant changes in the contemporary American food system.

    To view past webcasts visit the Chemical Heritage Foundation Vimeo channel. Subscribe to the highlights playlist on YouTube via the videos below.

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