October 17, 2019
Another museum I visited during the AASLH Annual Meeting in Philadelphia was the Science History Institute. On the last day of the Annual Meeting, I decided that this will be one of the museums I wanted to see before I left. According to the website, the Science History Institute collects and shares stories of innovators and of discoveries that shape our lives. The Institute also preserves and interprets the history of chemistry, chemical engineering, and the life sciences. Inside the Institute, there are four programmatic areas that address specific parts of the non-profit organization’s overall mission: an archive and library for historians and researchers, a fellowship program for visiting scholars around the world, a community of researchers who examine historical and contemporary issues, and an acclaimed museum that is free and open to the public. The Institute also has a state-of-the-art conference center located within the building.
Because I did not have much time before I was leaving the city, I visited the museum and the exhibits. The Institute’s museum exhibits include an array of artifacts, scientific instruments, and art utilized to create exhibitions, public programs, and other materials showcasing the research and diverse collections. Making Modernity, a permanent exhibit, shows visitors how chemistry has touched our lives and visitors can trace the scientific progress in the laboratory, the factory, and their homes; the exhibit’s mission is to help visitors learn how chemistry created and continues to shape the modern world. Throughout the exhibit, there are scientific instruments and apparatus, rare books, fine art, and the personal papers of prominent scientists. Making Modernity also have varying topics that range from alchemy, synthetics, and the chemical-instrument revolution to chemistry education, electro-chemistry, chemistry sets, and the science of color.
During my visit, I noticed that each part of the museum showcased scientific artifacts that described the evolution of everyday materials we may take for granted nowadays. For instance, one of the many sections I was impressed with was called The Chemical Body: A New View of Health which showed technical innovations in the 19th century that led to discoveries of vitamins and techniques for analyzing the body’s chemical and cellular makeup.
Another example of a section that stood out to me was The Bright World of Color which shares the changes in creating dyes from natural resources to using industrial research, synthetic dyes, and new testing methods to improve dye production. It reminded me of my research while I was in college about the history of cochineal used as red dyes. I enjoyed how much detail the exhibit labels went into each section of the museum exhibit especially in the Bright World of Color.
I was also impressed with another part of the exhibit which features an interactive multimedia learning experience which showcases the collections of art, scientific instruments, rare books, and other artifacts. The installation has a two-story high video column and a pair of high-resolution, interactive tables known as Object Explorer; visitors can explore the history and science behind various everyday objects by placing them on an interactive table to investigate the object’s history and the stories of the materials they are made of. For instance, I took a Pyrex measuring cup and placed in on the interactive table which revealed information about the history of glass and how the quality of glass was improved to eventually be used as the measuring cup.
Also, there was another exhibit I viewed while I was inside the Science History Institute called What Was the Real Age of Alchemy? Inside the exhibits there were various paintings and artifacts that revealed alchemy was change, creativity, and curiosity which shaped the modern understanding of modern science.
If you are visiting Philadelphia, I recommend spending a lot of time at the Science History Institute for there is so much to see and learn.