History of Science

The classic 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit has always been contested but authors of the new study say the figure is probably right and human body temperatures have actually decreased over time.

Human Body Temperature Is Getting Cooler, Study Finds

Our average normal temperature may no longer be 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit

To 17th-century scholars, it made perfect sense that fossils on mountain sides and deep in the ground had been left there in the wake of the biblical flood (above The Subsiding of the Waters of the Deluge by Thomas Cole, 1829).

Why This 18th-Century Naturalist Believed He’d Discovered an Eyewitness to the Biblical Flood

Smithsonian paleontologist Hans Sues recounts a colossal tale of mistaken identity

These are ten of the biggest strides made by scientists in the last ten years.

The Top Ten Scientific Discoveries of the Decade

Breakthroughs include measuring the true nature of the universe, finding new species of human ancestors, and unlocking new ways to fight disease

The Ten Best Science Books of 2019

New titles explore the workings of the human body, the lives of animals big and small, the past and future of planet earth and how it's all connected

In 1904, Abyssinia’s King Menelik presented a four-year-old zebra, who became known as Dan, as a gift to President Theodore Roosevelt.

How Dan the Zebra Stopped an Ill-Fated Government Breeding Program in Its Tracks

At the centennial of the death of this captive animal, an archaeozoologist visited collections at the Smithsonian to examine human-animal relationships

At Agate Fossil Beds National Monument near the town of Harrison, Nebraska, visitors can view in the outcropping a curious spiral-shaped fossil called Daimonelix, also known as Devil's Corkscrew.

How Scientists Resolved the Mystery of the Devil's Corkscrews

Smithsonian paleontologist Hans-Dieter Sues tells the tale of a fossil find that bedeviled early 20th-century researchers

After two eclipse expeditions confirmed Einstein's theory of general relativity, the scientist became an international celebrity.

One Hundred Years Ago, Einstein's Theory of General Relativity Baffled the Press and the Public

Few people claimed to fully understand it, but the esoteric theory still managed to spark the public's imagination

Charlotte Moore Sitterly made huge strides in our understanding of how atoms are structured and what stars, especially our sun, are made of.

How Charlotte Moore Sitterly Wrote The Encyclopedia of Starlight

The "world’s most honored woman astrophysicist" worked tirelessly for decades to measure the makeup of the sun and the stars

Would you drink it?

Why Scientists Are Making Vodka in the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone

It’s perfectly safe to drink, according to a new report

The Oldest Film of a Solar Eclipse Has Been Restored and Released Online

In 1900, magician, astronomer and filmmaker Nevil Maskelyne used a special adapter to film the astronomical event in North Carolina

The fossil Eremotherium was from south Georgia. And it was an important one, since it firmly establish the presence of the giant ground sloth, which had previously been unknown in the United States.

A Giant Sloth Mystery Brought Me Home to Georgia

A new book from former Smithsonian Secretary Wayne Clough describes his journey into the collections in search of connections to his heritage

1921 Christmas greetings slide by Arthur Earland

The Nerdiest Christmas Cards Ever May Be These Microscope Slides Composed of Shells

The unusual holiday exchange, which lasted decades during the early 20th-century, hints at the drama between the two colleagues

As the first serious scientist to study the legendary creature, Krantz risked his career and reputation on a subject that many consider a joke. And while the museum remembers him as a man who loved science so much that he donated his body to it, another community remembers Krantz as a pioneer in the study of Sasquatch.

The Scientist Grover Krantz Risked It All. . .Chasing Bigfoot

The dedicated anthropologist donated his body to science and it’s on display, but his legacy is complicated

When the U.S. Government Tried to Make It Rain by Exploding Dynamite in the Sky

Inspired by weather patterns during the Civil War, the rainmakers of the 1890s headed to west Texas to test their theory

An artistic rendering of Edward Jenner vaccinating eight-year-old James Phipps in 1796.

The Mysterious Origins of the Smallpox Vaccine

Though the disease was declared eradicated in 1980, the era of smallpox is far from over

Captain James Cook set out on a voyage across the Pacific 250 years ago, seemingly on a scientific voyage. But he carried secret instructions from the Navy with him as well.

Captain Cook’s 1768 Voyage to the South Pacific Included a Secret Mission

The explorer traveled to Tahiti under the auspices of science 250 years ago, but his secret orders were to continue Britain’s colonial project

Throughout the mid-1800s, improvements on the spectroscope allowed physicists to more accurately measure the wavelengths of light and identify new elements—like helium.

How Scientists Discovered Helium, the First Alien Element, 150 Years Ago

First found only on the sun, scientists doubted the mysterious element even existed for more than a decade

Nuclear material in drums in a storage area of Tuwaitha Nuclear Research Center in 1991.

How Saddam and ISIS Killed Iraqi Science

Within decades the country’s scientific infrastructure went from world-class to shambles. What happened?

Agnesi was an Italian mathematician, philosopher, theologian, and humanitarian.

The 18th-Century Lady Mathematician Who Loved Calculus and God

After writing a groundbreaking math textbook, Maria Agnesi quit math for good

When the director of DARPA heard about the blasts and their purpose, he had an immediate reaction: “Holy shit. This is dangerous.”

How Soviet Bomb Tests Paved the Way For U.S. Climate Science

The untold story of a failed Russian geoengineering scheme, panic in the Pentagon, and a Nixon-era effort to study global cooling

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