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Science History Institute

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

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Installed in Philadelphia’s renovated, historic nineteenth-century First National Bank, Making Modernity is a modern cabinet of curiosities that pays tribute to the international community of chemists and molecular scientists. It explores the technologies, tools, and instruments that have enabled us to decipher the universe’s building blocks, manipulate matter, and invent new materials.

Science History Institute

The iconic centerpiece of the 18,000-square-foot museum is a multi-screen vertical video program that serves as an index to the Periodic Table. An integrated interactive program provides in-depth access to the foundation’s research and collections.

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The exhibition’s detailing—slate plinths and a flexible stainless-steel armature—evokes a high-tech laboratory, an environment where science is always a work in progress. The flexibility of this support and its mounting and structural systems provide for the addition of new artifacts and interpretation.

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Making Modernity’s 24 sections illustrate 8 thematic arcs ranging from chemistry’s origins to the role science plays in the modern world. Each section presents a story based on a person or group of people and displays items that convey the history of a given innovation or idea. The section entitled “Chemistry and the Public Good,” for example, features scientists who became public advocates during the Industrial Revolution. It includes Louis Pasteur’s 1865 letter upbraiding French winemakers for not adopting pasteurization, as well as photographs, journals, and popular magazines from the period.

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Making Modernity is the cornerstone of the Institute’s public education program. The Wall Street Journal wrote, “Its ambitious opening exhibits achieve a signal feat: they shift and enrich our view of the world.”

Year 2008

Size Permanent exhibition: 6,000 square feet; Changing exhibition gallery: 2,000 square feet; Conference center: 17,000 square feet

Architect SaylorGregg Architects

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