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Chemical Heritage Foundation Museum: Beautiful Science in a Beautiful Setting


Chemical Heritage FoundationDespite the dry name, The Chemical Heritage Foundation is definitely worth a visit. The Chemical Heritage Foundation is conveniently located in the heart of Historic Philadelphia at Third and Chestnut Streets. Ten years in the making, this $20 million project uses contemporary art, history, current events, artifacts and technology to examine science in our everyday, beaker-phobic adult lives. The experience will give you a different meaning of the words “chemical” and “heritage.” And the best part: IT’S FREE!

Unlike the science-learning centers you visited on class trips as a kid, The Chemical Heritage Foundation examines how science occurs in our world in a balanced mix of traditional displays and a large interactive touch-screen. The permanent exhibition demonstrates how we use science, not just how it works. It goes beyond the overtly simplistic science-learning centers’experiments and demonstrations, and succinctly explains how science is a part of everyday life in a manner that is interesting and easily understandable to adults. From birth control to computers, explosions to pasteurization, the permanent exhibition conveys the roles science has played--and continues to play--in shaping modernity.

The Chemical Heritage Foundation’s permanent exhibition, Making Modernity,showcases an interactive periodic table, rare books, fine art and scientific documents. By utilizing a diverse range of artifacts, the Chemical Heritage Foundation makes science relevant to a wide audience.

“Contemporary art provides another lens in which to view science,” clarified Erin McLeary, Head Curator and Writer for Making Modernity. "A museum is a visual place, and we really wanted this one to be captivating," continues McLeary. "Even if you don't know what something scientific is, you'll find it interesting here."

So if science was not your strong suit in school, no worries. This is a museum that breaks it down to a molecular level and then builds it back up in different forms: contemporary art, tech-savvy touch-screen interactives, traditional exhibit displays, and so on.

Beyond Making Modernity, the Chemical Heritage Foundation has a relatively large gallery for temporary exhibitions. Currently on view is sLowlife, an unusual and sometimes unnerving perspective on how a plant reacts to its inner and outer worlds. This exhibition will be open through December 2009. For more information on temporary exhibitions, The Chemical Heritage Foundation's website at www.chemheritage.org.

But if the science does not draw you in, the striking renovation of the First National Bank building, originally from in 1865, is worth a look. The large arching windows let in plenty of natural light--a rarity in the museum world. The eco-friendly construction included wall tiles and floors made from recycled materials, an appropriate fresh use of contemporary science applied to the existing historic structure.

What you need to know:

The Chemical Heritage Foundation is located at 315 Chestnut Street in the heart of Historic Philadelphia. It is free to the public and open 10 AM to 4 PM on Monday through Friday.

Chemical Heritage Foundation

315 Chestnut Street
 Philadelphia, PA 19106-2702


(215) 925-2222