Chemistry in European museums
CHEMistry for Life

Over the last two centuries, chemistry has changed our daily lives more than any other of the sciences. Chemistry makes our world more colourful, more efficient, more reliable and safer. Pharmaceuticals, cosmetics, toiletries and bodycare products, airbags and brake fluid - they're all chemical products. Of all the natural sciences, this is the only one to have given rise to an entire industry - in Europe alone, approx. 1.7 million people are currently employed in the chemical industry. Without doubt, chemistry will go on into the 21st century as the key science within newly evolving areas of knowledge and interdisciplinary research.

At the same time, however, no other science is connected with more bad emotions, refusal and anxiety across wide sectors of society. During a conference held by the European Collaborative for Science, Industry and Technology Exhibitions - ECSITE for short - in November 1993, Wolf Peter Fehlhammer, general director of the Deutsches Museum in Munich, and Richard Piani, president of the Fondation La Villette-Enterprises and one-time manager with the chemical corporation Rhône-Poulenc, thought long and hard about how to combat this negative emotions towards chemistry, frequently based on ignorance and misunderstanding.

The object of their discussions was to develop suitable measures designed to break down people's fears and promote their trust across a broad spectrum of public opinion. Scientific principles and objective information need to be put across clearly and accessibly. Who better to meet this need than the science centres and technology museums all over Europe? It is the independence of these institutions and their fundamentally educational mission to explain and communicate technology and natural science as outstanding cultural achievements which make them such an excellent setting for this task. Not least their attendance figures suggest that they are an obvious choice. Every year more than twenty million people visit the science centres and technology museums of Europe. At the same time, these museums work closely with schools and teachers, helping to ensure that interest and enthusiasm for the natural sciences is aroused among millions of young people.

In the autumn of 1994, representatives from 15 science centres and technology museums came from 13 countries at the invitation of the Deutsches Museum to take part in a workshop in Munich. They debated - and sometimes argued - as to how chemistry could be presented in museums as attractively, clearly and objectively as possible. The museums which participated joined forces under the umbrella of ECSITE and worked for three years to meet this challenge. The project and the results of Phase 1 were presented to the public for the first time as CHEMistry for Life on 27 November 1997 in Brussels.

CHEMistry for Life - an overview

Key dates for the project so far:

November 1993 Copenhagen The idea is born
September 1994 Munich First brainstorming with 15 European science centres and museums
March 1995 Barcelona Development of the Global Messages
November 1997 Brussels Launch Event
July 1998 Munich Installation of the Web-site
December 1999   End of the production phases of the prototypes (29 finished prototypes)
July 2000   New Web-site including a virtual gallery of prototypes

Press Releases (posted on CEFIC Web site):

   The idea   

The idea behind CHEMistry for Life was that there should be a joint campaign mounted across Europe by all the science centres and technology museums, aiming to offset the negative image of chemistry in the public eye. A more accurate and more objective assessment of the opportunities and risks presented by chemistry is to be achieved through refurbishing and restyling of museum chemistry sections, supported by experiments, demonstrations and the hands-on involvement of visitors themselves. The appropriate media and measures are being developed and financed by the museums which have signed up for the CHEMistry for Life project and by the chemical industry.

   The partners   

CHEMistry for Life is a joint initiative mounted by 16 European science centres and technology museums under the umbrella of ECSITE and CISU (Chemical Industry Association for Scientific Understanding), a collaboration within the European Chemical Industry Council CEFIC.

This is the first time that European museums and industry have joined forces to present a collaborative project on this scale. Quite apart from the political example set by this European cooperation, CHEMistry for Life opens up new opportunities for synergetic effects and cross-fertilisation. Through this project, these museums are making a crucial contribution to cultural and scientific education in the Europe of this new millennium.

The consortium of museums

Catalyst, The Museum of the Chemical Industry, Widnes, UK
Cité des Sciences et de l'Industrie, La Villette, Paris, France
Deutsches Museum, Munich, Germany
, Hellerup, Copenhagen, Denmark
Exploratorio, Coimbra, Portugal
Heureka, Vantaa, Helsinki, Finland
Fondazione IDIS - Città della Scienza
; Naples, Italy
Institut Royal des Sciences Naturelles de Belgique, Brussels, Belgium
, Amsterdam, the Netherlands
Museu de la Ciència, Barcelona, Spain
Musée des Sciences de Parentville, Charleroi, Belgium
MUSIS, Rome, Italy
Palais de la Découverte, Paris, France
Science Museum, London, UK
Techniquest, Cardiff, UK

The partners of the Chemical Industry

Akzo Nobel NV
BP Amoco Chemicals
ICI plc
KT RY, Kemianteollisuus ry
Basell Polyolefins bv
Neste Oy
Norsk Hydro ASA
Shell Chemicals Limited
Solvay SA
Verband der Chemischen Industrie e.V. - VCI
European Chemical Industry Council


   The concept   

New chemistry sections at the science centres and technology museums can only be successful if they are designed in line with the latest insights into educational museum presentation and if they include attractive and imaginative hands-on and multimedia features. But the development of interactive systems is expensive and time-consuming.
On its own, an individual museum can seldom afford very many of these features.
CHEMistry for Life aims to have worked together to develop approx. 50 innovative, original didactic displays by the year 2000. Development and production of prototypes is to be financed with the help of the chemical industry and the European Commission. The individual museums will only have to meet the costs of production and adaptation of their own selected copies. Apart from cost savings, CHEMistry for Life guarantees a consistent approach and high quality in the presentation of chemistry by European museums.

   The messages   
Eight global themes are at the heart of this new approach and put across its basic philosophy. In fact, in new chemistry sections at some museums, they replace the division into organic, inorganic and chemical engineering which has been usual up to now. The following eight slogans strike up an evocative and emotive direct link to everyday life, they involve, inform and clear up misunderstandings.

You are chemistry!
... and the rest of the universe, too!
Chemistry invents new matter à la carte!
In chemistry there are no copies of molecules, only identical originals!
Chemistry provides solutions to its own problems!
There are no toxic substances, only toxic doses!
Beethoven, Dante, Velasquez, Lavoisier...!
Not even chemists are perfect!

These global messages formulated by W.P. Fehlhammer, R. Jackson and J. Wagensberg are to be put across imaginatively, wittily and convincingly with the help of the planned 50 new experiments, computer programmes, shows etc..
An important project as part of Phase 1 was prepared jointly by the Deutsches Museum, Munich, and the Cité des Sciences et de l'Industrie, La Villette, Paris:
Eight short films set out to present the global messages in visual form, with successful, very appealing and often amusing interpretations of these global themes in pictures. Computer animations from France combine with real life scenes from Germany. These short films are among the basic features for inclusion in the new chemistry sections.

   The prototypes   
All finished products are shown and explained in the "Virtual Gallery"
Products are grouped into 4 categories:
· hands-on interactive exhibit,
· lab/workshop,
· film/multimedia,
· show/demonstration.

Price information

The information if an exhibit and/or a corresponding production manual is deliverable is given in the Virtual Gallery. Prices for finished products and production manuals are shown in categories which refer to the following list:

Category A : 1 - 5.000 Euro
Category B : 5 - 10.000 Euro
Category C : 10 - 20.000 Euro
Category D : 20 - 40.000 Euro
Category E : 40 - 60.000 Euro
Category F : more than 60.000 Euro

The whole set of products including finished products of (list - under development) and full manuals of (list - under development) can be purchased for about (Price - under development)

For actual and precise price information for finished products and/or production manuals: Please contact the project manager or the individual producing museums.

   Introduction by Professor Jean-Marie Lehn and Sir Harold Kroto    
Chemistry, the science of the next millennium

Chemistry will undoubtedly remain the central science in the 21st century. After bringing to mankind the fundamental discoveries which have changed our daily life for the last two centuries, it will now be at the heart of a new scientific era, where many sciences will merge and cross-fertilize for the benefit of innovation. Thus, chemical creativity and knowledge will be needed everywhere.

However, this science, fascinating as it may be, fails, like some others, to attract young people, and suffers from a lack of information and therefore of understanding and enthusiasm from the general public. If Europe is to prosper in the 21st century and therefore provide the wealth and jobs which we will surely need in a world driven by global competition, it needs to cope fully with the challenges of scientific innovation, especially in chemistry. For that, it will need both to attract young and creative people, the scientists of tomorrow, and to drive popular support and balanced understanding.

The "CHEMistry for Life" project, which aims to provide a step change in the way that chemistry is presented to the public, in those wonderful and essential places that are scientific museums, is an essential one. It will provide an excellent vehicle for helping people of all ages to experience the pleasure and excitement of scientific discovery.

I commend this project to you with my full support.

    Prof. Jean-Marie Lehn - Nobel Laureate

Science for Life

Science is the dominant culture of the 20th Century and is set to become even more dominant in the 21st. However, as we become ever more dependent on scientific and engineering advances, society appears to become less-and-less aware of it and how they have freed the human race from the slavery of existing merely to survive. As the next century approaches, the need thus becomes ever more urgent that everyone should have some deeper understanding of the way scientific principles underpin their daily life. In fact the intrinsic cultural nature of these principles, as well as the way they have been applied for the benefit of society need to be revealed. Judicious use of these advances in the future is necessary and this will only occur if some key scientific principles are understood at every level of society.

Unfortunately traditional methods of education appear to be failing in spite of sterling efforts by our teachers. The sheer complexity of science and technology today, as well as the lure of alternative, often superficially exciting, areas are some of the problems. Chemistry, the discipline central to our socio-economic environment is suffering as much if not more than others and is a perfect example of the need for urgent measures to develop, in collaboration with schools and teachers, better interactive, balanced and personally tailored approaches to education.

The wonderful new "experience" centres and science museums, which are blossoming across Europe, are providing an important component in the solution to these problems. They work closely with schools and science teachers thereby ensuring that millions of young people are being given a real taste for science and enthusiasm to learn more is being fostered. The prime purpose of this European project, which has been created by a consortium formed by the museums and by the chemical industry, in collaboration with the European Commission, is to help these centres and museums to provide the very best experience of science possible.

It must be obvious to any intelligent person from the plethora of serious problems facing the world today that our very survival in the 21st century will depend on a quantum leap in real understanding of science and technology by anyone in a position of any responsibility. Only a crash programme in science education can now help and I am certain that this exciting "CHEMistry for Life" programme will play a major role in this crucial process.

    Sir Harold Kroto - Nobel Laureate


   A truly European project   
This innovative project illustrates the joint efforts of the Science Museums (ECSITE - European Collaborative for Science, Industry and Technology Exhibitions) and the chemical industry (CISU - Chemical Industry Association for Scientific Understanding), in collaboration with the European Commission, to encourage responsible citizenship, not only based on knowledge and understanding but also on a real commitment to science, technology, research and technological development.

European Science Centres and Museums of today have a very important role as innovative cultural institutions, communicating to more than 20 million visitors per year, and as a basis of work for thousands of schools all over Europe. From an independent position and with the communication technologies of tomorrow, they will make a significative contribution to the European culture and science education in the next millennium.

Indeed the advantages of the European dimension of the project are numerous:

  • The European dimension of this pioneering project breaks new ground in terms of cross fertilisation and synergy throughout the scientific museums. Within museums of the consortium an important cross fertilisation of ideas has been initiated among front-runners in modern interactive communication of chemistry. A firm structured organisation has been set up by ECSITE to facilitate collaboration and exchange of ideas, so to ensure a creative and safe production, and allow the most effective educational methods to be promoted in science centres all over the continent. This is the first time that such a process has been initiated among the European Museums.
  • The development of interactive exhibits within chemistry is generally a very complex and expensive process compared to other scientific areas. The use of chemicals and laboratory materials will very often make it necessary to incur considerable costs. With a global budget split between the various partners, fifty new innovative products will be developed, tested and displayed in the consortium museums. Furthermore these developments will be made available to more than 100 European Science Centres and Museums within ECSITE, for very moderate costs once the initial development has been paid for this project. For many of the smaller European Science Centres and Museums, the planned catalogue of fifty new museological products will represent a unique opportunity to become active and efficient in the interactive communication of chemistry to the public. Without the synergy created by this project, most of these centres would never have such an opportunity. Indeed, should they have entered such a process by themselves, acting independently across Europe, the total cost would have approached three to four times the actual expenditure of the "CHEMistry for Life" project (about 3 to 4 million ECU). This project therefore must be considered as an important and very cost efficient tool in the joint European efforts to improve the scientific and technological literacy of young people.
  • Some of the museological prototypes (in particular multimedia) will also be suitable for inclusion in school curricula and further education programmes, and should therefore jointly stimulate educational innovation both in the formal and informal sectors all around Europe.

Because of its pioneering content, the project will also, as a long term spin-off effect, promote a much stronger collaboration among European Science Centres and Museums in the future.

For further information about the project please contact:

Dr. Ulrich Kernbach
Deutsches Museum
Museumsinsel 1
D - 80538 München

tel: + 49 (0) 89 2179 476
fax: + 49 (0) 89 2179 425