Each day as I travel to Chemical Heritage Foundation, I walk through the heart of old Philadelphia, where history is found in layers. This city is over 325 years old, whereas the towns in Utah where I come from can barely claim 150 years. Just about every building either is historic in its own right or is built over an historic spot. CHF is located at 315 Chestnut Street, which is diagonal to Carpenter’s Hall (where the First Continental Congress met in 1774). Just a couple of weeks ago I realized that the alley next to our building leads to Franklin Court, which is where Benjamin Franklin’s house was located as well as his printing office. There is a museum that is almost literally underneath our museum at CHF (talk about layered history!) that includes replicas or originals of Franklin’s many inventions and scientific instruments among other exhibits.
I was hoping to have some of these sorts of synergies occur as part of my fellowship, but sometimes opportunities come up that are completely unexpected. One such happens to be next door to Franklin Court – only about ten feet away from our building. It’s called the National Liberty Museum, and it has an excellent display of the struggle for liberty and some of the heroes that have helped to achieve it. I didn’t realize this until I finally walked in last week, but it also is a museum of modern glass art. Each historical display is paired with blown and stained glass artwork that compliments and emphasizes its theme, ranging from highly realistic to abstract. Given how much work we’ve done this spring on stained and blown glass, I was pleasantly surprised to find this. I was amazed at the beauty of the glass work and the power of the displays. They have a piece called the Flame of Liberty by Dale Chihuly, as well as several others by him. He is one of the great current masters of blown glass. They also have some beautiful stained and sculpted glass pieces.
I’m also finding there are opportunities in the vicinity of Philadelphia that could become possible episodes. There is a zinc mine in northern New Jersey that gives tours; a coal mine up in the Poconos; the Drake oil well (the first one) in Titusville, in the extreme northwest corner of Pennsylvania (I would have to stop there on my way back to Utah); and other possibilities. If I take advantage of all of these, then I will have enough materials to last for months.
Speaking of episodes, here is a video clip, as promised, that was presented at my Brown Bag Lunch two weeks ago. I’ve added a few images and finished out some animations since then. It is meant to show two samples of the episodes on the origins of atomic and elemental theories in ancient Greece. I am showing this here to get some feedback from anyone on how well they like (or don’t like) the animations and illustrations used, as they are representative of what you’ll see in all the episodes. Please feel free to comment on these video samples; the more specific, the better.
Meanwhile my research into how atomic theory changed and developed in the Middle Ages is continuing, and I will have some things to say about that next time.