Speakeasy Science

Apologies to Alfred

She clasps the crag with crooked hands Close to the sun in lonely lands Writing is in someways a lonely land, or lonely may not be the precise word I’m looking for. There’s a kind of necessary solitude, the need for a clear space. At my home office, this usually means me telling the kids,…

Jet Lag

I started Speakeasy Science in late January on my author website. I’d finished my book on the invention of modern forensic toxicology in 1920s New York City – The Poisoner’s Handbook – but I’d developed an addiction to writing about chemistry and culture. It was my first heady experience of working solely for myself. I’ve…

Warriors Against Claptrap

A couple days ago I received this note: “There was an article in the Huffington Post not long ago about an extreme worst case scenario with the oil spill – that a giant methane bubble bursts through the sea floor, ignites, causes a huge supersonic tsunami that would wipe out all of Florida, followed by…

An Arsenic Theory of Zombies

As a dedicated chemistry nut – I mean, of course, enthusiast – I’ve recently wondered if my favorite science could explain the existence of zombies. And after mulling it over – helped along by the suggestion of Scibling Scicurious that a Zombie Day would be a good idea and also by a number of cocktails…

The Frozen Addicts

The title of this post comes from a description coined by a California neurologist who, in 1982, began investigating a bizarre disease outbreak: patients with bent and twisted bodies, faces stiffened to the point that some were drooling uncontrollably, even in the summer heat resembling bodies frozen to rigidity. As Dr. William Langston investigated further…

Arsenic and an old horse story

The name Phar Lap comes from an Asian word for lightning; a sky flash. A passing dazzle of light, a spark in the night. And so he was, the big copper racehorse, born in New Zealand, trained in Australia, whose dazzling speed made him one of those unexpected beacons of hope during the Great Depression…

Our Dangerous Planet

During the 1970s, international aid agencies came up with a brilliant plan to stem a plague of water-borne illnesses in the Asian country of Bangladesh. They would underwrite the installation of wells in disease-troubled villages, tapping into the cleaner ground water below. They would use simple, relatively inexpensive tube wells, place thousands of these over-sized…

Shrek vs. Cadmium (Cadmium Wins)

This is a story about 13.4 million promotional drinking glasses. Really cute colorful glasses produced for McDonalds in a tie-in for the current hit movie, Shrek Forever After. All of said glasses recalled by said McDonalds (in both the U.S. and Canada) after it turned out that the pigments used to create those images contained…

Spills, Science and Semantics

Recently, I wrote a cranky little post about NOAA’s behavior regarding the Gulf of Mexico. The agency’s approach seemed to me to be timid and deferential at a time when I wanted a strong voice and and steady sense of purpose. What had set me off was the agency’s reluctance to use the word “plume”…

I was sorry to see the deadline pass on The Poisoner’s Handbook audio book giveaway because I received so many smart and thoughtful ideas for writing about chemistry in our culture. And I found it really difficult to pick just five winners – so first I’d like to say thanks to everyone who wrote in…