The Science History Institute preserves and interprets the history of chemistry, engineering, and the life sciences. During a ceremony in Philadelphia on June 10, the American Chemical Society designated the institute a National Historic Chemical Landmark. ACS established the Landmarks program in 1992 to recognize seminal achievements in the history of chemistry and to increase public awareness of chemistry’s contributions to society.
“The institute provides the public with a view of the role chemistry and science have played and continue to play in society,” ACS president Judith C. Giordan said during the ceremony. Since its beginning, the Landmarks program “has honored special collections of chemical works and artifacts—and the institute’s collections, as well as excellence in their interpretation, are integral to today’s award,” she said. “These impacts are critical as we work to nurture the public’s trust and interest in science.”
Lewis Gasorek, chair of the institute’s board, and David A. Cole, its president and CEO, also spoke at the event, which was part of the first annual Curious Histories Fest. This celebration of science, history, and experimentation drew members of the public for hands-on activities and an opportunity to see highlights from the collections. In addition, Philadelphia mayor James F. Kenney declared June 10 Science History Day.
The institute was founded as the Center for History of Chemistry, which opened in 1982 on the University of Pennsylvania campus, with support from the university and ACS. The American Institute of Chemical Engineers became an additional sponsor in 1984. The organization was renamed the Chemical Heritage Foundation in 1992 and moved to its present site in Old City, Philadelphia, in 1996. After merging with the Life Sciences Foundation, it was renamed the Science History Institute in 2018, reflecting its broad interdisciplinary mission.
The institute comprises the Othmer Library of Chemical History, the Beckman Center for the History of Chemistry, the Distillations magazine and podcast, an award-winning museum and oral history center, and digital offerings. Its collections include print books, the personal papers of numerous Nobel laureates, scientific equipment, photos and films, digital resources, fine art, and oral-history interviews. Through these resources, as well as live and virtual events, the institute makes the history of science accessible to the public and to researchers.