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Distillations | Science History Institute

325 EpisodesProduced by Science History InstituteWebsite

Each episode of Distillations podcast takes a deep-dive into a moment of science-related history in order to shed light on the present.

20:03

Disappearing Spoon: Burn After Watching

In this episode of The Disappearing Spoon, Sam Kean breaks down the history of nitrocellulose. This thick, transparent liquid was the world’s first plastic and could be shaped into anything, including billiard balls and photography film. With nitrocellulose film, you could run reels of pictures together quickly, which gave birth to the first movies.

The only fatal flaw with this plastic is that it’s also extremely combustible—so much so that it can burn underwater once it gets going. This led to notable tragedies in movie theaters, as well as in hospitals that used nitrocellulose X-rays such as the Cleveland Clinic Hospital, where 122 people died in a fire in 1929.

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Host: Sam Kean Senior Producer: Mariel Carr Producer: Rigoberto Hernandez Audio Engineer: Jonathan Pfeffer

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