While in Philadelphia I was invited to visit Chemistry Heritage Foundation as my sister Darlene Cavalier, who runs Sci Starter, had a meeting there. I went but must admit, I wasn’t looking forward to it (I can say that now that I’m 3500 miles away again).
A museum on chemistry? Really? It just sounded like watching paint dry. Even when I walked in I remember saying ‘well this isn’t going to take me long…’
Boy was I ever wrong!
Chemistry Heritage Foundation (CHF) has turned into one of my favourite museums on so many different levels.
Boom – they had me.
Ok ok, I know not everyone falls in this category but it was more than that – they also followed up with a PERSON who came over to introduce me to the set up. Yes this was a museum of science but the exhibitions were set out in categories, not chronologically. To be honest, I didn’t comprehend what that meant at first but it was nice to know there would be someone available should I have a question.
It took me a few minutes to realize what the Attendant meant with the way the exhibition were set out, and why it matters. Science is a funny thing – almost everything can be mapped out on a chronological timeline. You see this a lot in science museums: Egyptian surgical papyrus 1600 BCE to Chloroform used in 1847. Boring right?
CHF put categories together allowing for collections of similar items to be within one area. I didn’t have to run from one end of the timeline to another to map the items together, the work was done for me. Genius!
There was just the right about of digital when needed. The most creative was an interactive book that truly looked like a book even though it was a swipeable tablet.
This design also allowed for another favourite aspect as CHF:
Now that the timeline design was thrown out the window, CHF was able to tell the STORIES behind the science and items on display. The stories made the exhibitions interesting, intriguing and most importantly, memorable.
Suddenly, I went from ‘oh this won’t take me 5 minutes to see’ to literally running out of time and making Darlene wait until I was ready to leave.
What was one of the first living creature scanned by an MRI? A baby clam Scientist Lauterbur’s 9 year old brought home.
What I loved about this is CHF didn’t try to teach me how an MRI works or what the logic was behind the machine/science. No, they told me a story about it which I have now repeated at least 20 times to anyone that will listen. It made science FUN and interesting!
We also learned stories about the scientist and people in the industry.
Into the heads, hears and hands of Customers
This was an incredible charming story of former Beckman and Perking-Elmer’s salesman and marketing team and their role in the revolution in instrumentation that transformed chemistry after WWII. We don’t often think of it but the scientists themselves educated other scientists eager to learn about the latest development but also used feedback to take back for product development.
Things I learnt/loved:
Miniaturized vacuum tubes used in this hearing aid made it portable but vacuum tubes sucked energy requiring large batteries. Custom-designed leg holsters and specially designed brassieres were created to hold the battery pack.
They also have a temporary exhibition space. When I visited, there was an
X-Ray Vision exhibition organized by @smithsonian. After I tweeted about it, Smithsonian replied:
Cool, right? Smithsonian and I in conversation about an exhibition I’m standing in – and people wonder why I love social media.
I can’t recommend Chemistry Heritage Foundation enough. Even if you’re not planning a trip to Philadelphia any time soon, follow them online on one of their many channels
Not only are they brilliant with social media, but they live stream lecturers (I managed to catch one the other night).
And feel free to explore their brilliant website – you can lose hours there learning and having fun.