Sneak Peek At Molecules That Matter

Filed by Celia Arnaud The new conference center and museum at the Chemical Heritage Foundation doesn’t officially open until Oct. 3, but CHF couldn’t pass up an opportunity with so many chemists in town. So this week, ACS meeting attendees can get a sneak peek at the museum, including the temporary exhibit "Molecules that Matter" and the shell that will become CHF’s permanent exhibit, "Making Modernity."
The video tower at the center of “Making Modernity” (photo by Celia Arnaud) The video tower at the center of “Making Modernity” (photo by Celia Arnaud/C&EN).
Address: 315 Chestnut Street Hours: Monday through Wednesday, 10 AM–7 PM (special extended hours). Thursday, 10 AM–4 PM. If you’ve visited CHF before, you’re in for a pleasant surprise. The new two-story exhibit space—with pale yellow walls and nearly floor-to-ceiling windows—is far brighter than the small gallery and offices it replaces. The gallery is dominated by a video tower that plays a 14-minute continuous loop about the periodic table. The film was produced by Theodore Gray, of periodic-table table and poster fame, and filmmaker Max Whitby. Each element is represented by a filmed demonstration. As the clips cycle through, only the most spectacular ones reach the tower’s top spot. For now, that’s about all there is to see in the space that will soon be occupied by "Making Modernity." By the official opening date, the video tower will be joined by scientific instruments, rare books, fine art, and the personal papers of scientists, all aimed to teach visitors how chemistry helped create and improve the modern world. The permanent exhibit may not be finished, but "Molecules that Matter" is ready to go. This exhibit, put together by a team at CHF and Skidmore College, highlights the societal impact of 10 molecules, one for each decade of the 20th century. The molecules, in order, are aspirin, isooctane, penicillin G, polyethylene, nylon, DNA, progestin, DDT, prozac, and buckyballs. Feel free to disagree with the choice of molecules. My understanding is that some pretty prominent people already have. For each molecule, the exhibit features a work of art representing the artist’s reaction to that molecule. A couple of the artworks are not to be missed. Progestin is represented by New York artist Chrissy Conant's work, entitled Chrissy Caviar. Conant had a dozen of her eggs harvested at an in vitro fertilization clinic. She packaged each egg in its own vial and jar, labeling them the world’s most expensive luxury consumable item. DNA is illustrated by cultured marble sculptures of mice genetically modified to represent three of the seven deadly sins—anger, sloth, and gluttony. There's more to how the sculptures were made, but if you want to find that out, you'll have to visit them yourself.
Face to face with gluttony (photo by Celia Arnaud) Face to face with gluttony (photo by Celia Arnaud/C&EN).

Author: Carmen Drahl

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  1. the gluttony mouse is adorable.

  2. The periodic table video display by Theodore Gray and Max Whitby is stunning. The beautiful combination of science and art using modern technology greatly enhances communication and connections. This is the best video display of elements I have seen. I want one for our Shain Chemistry Research Tower!

  3. Connecting this post to the Top 5 from earlier today, that mouse was normal size until it got addicted to Philadelphia Cheesesteaks!!!

  4. I read the above description of the Molecules That Matter exhibit with great interest. Here are some key links that describe the origin and background of the exhibit:

    LA Times:

    (The above AP article by Ms. Jessica Pasko appeared also in the Boston
    Globe and in many regional US papers.)


    Online interactive:

    MTM first opened last September at the Tang Museum on Skidmore’s
    campus (and closed there in mid-April, 2008); it will travel to three
    other venues after leaving CHF in early 2009. As originator and
    co-curator of Molecules That Matter, I am especially pleased to see how
    well it is being received.


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