History of Science

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

Attenborougharion rubicundus is one of more than a dozen species named after the legendary naturalist Sir David Attenborough.

Why Scientists Name Species

From the Beyonce fly to the David Attenborough possum, the names we bestow on animals have real conservation impacts

Anti-cholera inoculation in Calcutta in 1894.

Science Still Bears the Fingerprints of Colonialism

Western science long relied on the knowledge and exploitation of colonized peoples. In many ways, it still does

A vintage ad for patent medicines, which usually didn't list their active ingredients. We now know that many contained morphine, cocaine, opium and more.

How Advertising Shaped the First Opioid Epidemic

And what it can teach us about the second

Marvin, a trailblazer in more ways than one, surveys the Antarctic terrain on her meteorite-hunting expedition of 1978-79.

The Rockstar Geologist Who Mapped the Minerals of the Cosmos

A professor told Ursula Marvin she should learn to cook. Instead she chased down meteorites in Antarctica

For all their flaws, lab mice have become an invaluable research model for genetics, medicine, neuroscience and more. But few people know the story of the first standardized lab mice.

The History of Breeding Mice for Science Begins With a Woman in a Barn

Far more than a mouse fancier, Abbie Lathrop helped establish the standard mouse model and pioneered research into cancer inheritance

Did a falling apple really influence Newtonian physics?

Sometimes, a Scientific “Eureka!” Moment Really Does Change the World

Your plastic credit card, microwaveable popcorn and erection enhancers all owe to a fortuitous moment of connection

Illustration made using an 1851 portrait of Mitchell by H. Dassell and a false-color image of supernova remnant Cassiopeia A by NASA.

Women Who Shaped Science

Smithsonian.com is sharing the stories of women scientists who also changed the world, but were written out of history.

A replica of Foucault's famous experiment at the Museo Nazionale della Scienza e Tecnica in Milan, Italy

How Does Foucault's Pendulum Prove the Earth Rotates?

This elegant scientific demonstration has been delighting everyday people for nearly 200 years

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