Science is not my strong point. This is a challenge because I am the first person to greet museum visitors when they arrive at the Chemical Heritage Foundation. Visitors have questions– everything from, “What exactly does a ‘museum of chemistry involve,” to inquiries about the exhibit featured in “The Invention of Mauve” episode on the Travel Channel’s “Mysteries in the Museum.” They explain that they have middle school aged children, or didn’t do well in chemistry themselves, and ask if the museum will hold their interest. I tell them that the interactive periodic table is a favorite of kids and adults alike.
I came to CHF two years ago with a background in hospitality and health. Any basic knowledge of chemistry I’d picked up from my undergraduate courses was long gone.
When I arrived, I got my own personal tour of the museum, courtesy of Ann Elizabeth Wiener, who oversees group and private tours. She guided me through the exhibits, explaining how each display illustrated a way in which chemistry has become an integral part of our everyday lives. She showed me the “mauve” display, which illustrates the use of chemistry in dyes and fabrics, the evolution of medical equipment, and chemistry’s role in predictions of pollutions.
I will never be as knowledgeable as the museum team about the history of science, but now I feel more comfortable with basic science. Every day, when listening to and interacting with my coworkers, I learn something new. Once, a visitor asked about a piece of her spandex clothing that had melted. She was curious about the chemistry behind it. I enlisted the help of our resident chemist, who explained why synthetic fabrics melt. While melting clothes is something I hope to never need to deal with myself, experiences like this allow me to connect to the chemistry around me.
By Maya Northen