Life’s been a bit hectic lately, so I’ve been busy attending to it, and neglecting this a bit, but now I’m back… Considering that I’ve lived in NYC all my life, and that Philadelphia is only 2 hours away, it’s a pity that I’ve never been there until last summer when I took a spontaneous trip to Philadelphia. Philly has so many things that I want to see, but on the top of my list is one that is less well-known…
Museum at the Chemical Heritage Foundation, located in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
The Museum at the Chemical Heritage Foundation (CHF) is open Tuesday to Saturday from 10am to 5pm; on the first Friday of the month, from March to December, the museum is open from 10am to 8pm. (I think they’ve changed the hours since I went as I distinctly remember them not being on open on the weekend, which is why I went on a Friday.) Admission to the museum is free, but they have a suggested donation of $5. The museum is accessible by both car and public transportation. Should you decide to drive, which you may have to if you’re coming from out of state, note that the museum doesn’t have onsite parking, but there are plenty of parking garages within a mile. Public transportation to the museum is pretty simple if you are already in Philly: take the SEPTA Market-Frankford Subway, the blue line, to the 2nd Street station and then walk a few blocks to reach the museum. There are plenty of other things to do around the area, such as the Benjamin Franklin Museum, which is right by the museum, and if you walk a little further, you’ll be at Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell.
The Chemical Heritage Foundation is an institution that promotes and preserves the understanding of the history of science; it consists of a library, museum, archive, research center and conference center. The Museum at CHF is a rather small museum within the Foundation, but is comprised of 4 exhibits, 3 of which are permanent and 1 is a rotating exhibit. The main exhibit “Making Modernity” provides an overview of how chemistry is part of everyday life. “Making Modernity” is broken into 11 different sections that focus on different aspects of chemistry. The first section is about the origins of chemistry and what people considered as chemistry. The next section is “Materials for the Masses”, which shows the contributions chemistry has made to society, such as synthetic fibers and plastics. “Tools for the Task” focuses on the tools used in chemistry, such as beakers, balances and other specialized glassware.
The largest section is “Empowering Technologies”, which focuses on how chemistry helped overcome the limits of time, space and speed through the developments of batteries, light bulbs and computer chips, respectively. There are 4 smaller sections in the middle of the room that highlight the more sophisticated tools, such as microscopes, spectrometers and various types of chemical detectors. Also in the middle of the room is a video column that has an interactive panel and a video on the periodic table.
On the second floor are the last two sections of the exhibit, “Becoming a Chemist” and “Chemists and the Wider World”. “Becoming a Chemist” contains a variety of notes and books related to the field. The section also contains some games and lab kits that were available to children. “Chemists and the Wider World” focuses on how chemistry is portrayed in the arts, how chemistry became a more unified field with the introduction of chemical symbols so that all scientists know that C stands for carbon or O for oxygen, how chemistry has impacted the world-both the good and the bad, and how chemistry continues to evolve.
The rotating exhibit that was on display when I visited was “Science at Play”, which was on view from October 2015 to September 2016. The exhibit highlighted the various toys and kits that came about to encourage kids to explore science. Chemistry kits and miniature laboratories came about in the early 1900s and became mass produced consumer goods. Early kits predominantly featured boys on the covers, but as more females became involved in the sciences, girls started appearing on the covers, too. The exhibit also contains other toys that came about due to science, such as the View-Master (I had one way back when, I adored the thing.)
The museum has two other exhibits, “Transmutation: Alchemy in Art” and “The Whole of Nature and the Mirror of Art”. Unfortunately, I missed these two exhibits as they aren’t directly connected to the main exhibit, so I didn’t even know there is more to see. (If you decide to visit, remember to look out for these two, they are elusive.)
My travel buddy and I spent about an hour at the museum, but as always others can spend more or less time depending on their interest levels. (My buddy took about half the time that I did, so the time allotted is just an estimate.) Admission to the museum is free, so it’s a great place to drop by, take a look and learn a little chemistry. The museum is more suitable for adults and older children as there is plenty of reading involved, and the museum isn’t really interactive so it may not keep younger kids interested for long. When people think of chemistry, they think of a laboratory with flames and boiling liquid, but that’s not all it is, just visit the Museum at the Chemical Heritage Foundation and find out how chemistry is actually a part of the everyday.