Chemistry

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Deborah Blum

In the late 1800s, US consumers unwittingly bought diluted and artificially whitened milk, and canned peas and beans greened with copper sulfate. Adulterated butter, meat, and other foods sometimes proved fatal. In The Poison Squad: One Chemist’s Single-Minded Crusade for Food Safety at the Turn of the Twentieth Century, Deborah Blum chronicles the birth of federal consumer protection.

Thomas Hager

Fixed nitrogen is essential in agriculture. Its rarity, as science writer Hager writes, shaped the world and its politics. Hager details that in 1905 German chemist Fritz Haber discovered a process for transforming abundant air-borne nitrogen into ammonia, and Carl Bosch's engineering scaled Haber's benchtop chemistry into industrial processes to make fertilizer. Haber and Bosch earned Nobel Prizes and saved millions from starvation. By 1944, the Haber-Bosch factory at Leuna — a primary target for U.S. bombers — occupied three square miles and employed 35,000 workers.

Cathy Cobb and Harold Goldwhite

Cathy Cobb, assistant professor of chemistry at Augusta State University in Georgia, and Harold Goldwhite, a professor of chemistry at California State University, Los Angeles, have written a book that contains stories of comical or death-defying antics of famous chemists. They reveal, for example, what happened when Alfred Nobel read his own obituary in the newspaper and what prompted Michael Faraday to wash Humphrey Davy's socks.