PA – Sensing Change at the Chemical Heritage Foundation

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April 29, 2014 by Dr. G

Welcome to the Chemical Heritage Foundation!

Welcome to the Chemical Heritage Foundation!

A few days ago, I went in to panic mode, realizing that I only had a few more days to see the Sensing Change exhibit at the Chemical Heritage Foundation before the exhibit closed for good!  So I grabbed my bag this morning and took the regional rail in to Philadelphia to explore what this intersection of science and art was all about.

First, if you haven’t been to the museum at the Chemical Heritage Foundation before, I encourage you to check it out!  I didn’t realize there was a museum there until I caught an episode of Mysteries at the Museum on the Travel Channel where they detailed the invention of mauve and its impact on global fashion trends (seriously!).  You can watch the clip on mauve, and then check out the mauve sample on display (OK, so the original swatch is behind-the-scenes, but the story is still fascinating).  You’ll also be able to view early chemistry kits from the 1950’s, Munsell color charts (every geologist has one!), and the very first National Historic Chemical Landmark (who knew these even existed???).

The exhibit is described as the following:

See our environment with fresh eyes.  Pop your head inside a floating greenhouse to encounter native plants usually found underfoot.  Follow gentle breezes and storm-force winds across a digital map.  Observe a record of precipitation that changes daily as jars fill with rain or remain empty.  Sensing Change invites us to explore and respond to both daily shifts in our environment and long-term climate change.

It was a small space in the overall museum, but with a powerful impact.  Immediately when I walked in the room, I could “sense” that I was in a different type of display, one that had my eyes darting across the room to try to capture and process everything at once.  I was immediately drawn to the photography of Diane Burko.  I had seen paintings of volcanic eruptions in the past, but these images of the Delaware River and Glacier National Park were just stunning and full of detail.  Click here to learn more about her exhibit.

Exhibit titled Waters: Glacier and Bucks

Exhibit titled Waters: Glacier and Bucks

Another exhibit that caught my eye was the Wind Map by Fernanda Viégas and Martin Wattenberg.  Again, the CHF has a nice website that summarizes the exhibit, but you must check out the map for yourself!

And I could not resist… I had to stick my head inside the Village Green – it really did smell and feel differently!

For this display, you went under and stood up with your head inside to fully immerse yourself in the Village Green.

For this display, you went under and stood up with your head inside to fully immerse yourself in the Village Green.

At this point, I should mention that I actually began my Sensing Change exploration over the weekend, when I was able to participate in Eve Mosher’s HighWaterLine installation.  Be sure to see my blog post about that experience!

The largest installation would be the Calendar of Rain, which captured the rainfall each day over the period of one year.  To the right is the collection apparatus that was in the CHF’s courtyard.  I found this to be a fascinating concept, especially with all of the precipitation/snowfall we received this past winter.  I think this piece (actually, all of the pieces in this display) could serve as interesting pieces for students to engage in conversations over and to serve as a springboard for their own clever projects that cross science and art.  Be sure to check out the other exhibits that are detailed on the Sensing Change website!

Literally a Calendar of Rain!

Literally a Calendar of Rain!

I am far from an artist – I can get as far as drawing stick figures in a game of Pictionary (but hey – they are pretty good stick figures!).  But this exhibit really made sense to me – and I’m not just playing on the title of the exhibit, either.  I think there needs to be more of this form of communication between artists and scientists, as the general public can strongly benefit in increasing their scientific literacy and having a better understanding of Earth and its systems.  What do you think students… can we do our own Earth and Art exhibit on campus?  Certainly, the Chemical Heritage Foundation has provided us with some inspiration….



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