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Public Lecture – The cultural heritage of chemistry

Brigitte Van Tiggelen, Working party on the History of Chemistry

Tuesday 28 August, 19.00 – 20.30

2018 is the European Year for Cultural Heritage, and the chemical or scientific heritage in general is only but a small part of the celebration, even though chemical sciences and engineering informs every part of our lives, and has shaped our modern world for several centuries now.

2018 will also be the launch of the EuCheMS Historical Landmark programme, see

This session will feature the presentation of the first award for the EuCheMS Historical Landmark, and will be open to the public. It will showcase how chemistry and allied sciences and technologies are integrant part of the European cultural heritage. This would also be an opportunity to underline the role chemists and scientists may play in preserving that heritage for the future generation.

Registration is open and free to attend.



Draft programme:

19:00 Introduction
Brigitte Van Tiggelen
19:10 Chemistry as public culture
Dr Robert Anderson Science History Institute
19:30 Everyday chemistry: collecting in the 21st century
Dr Rupert Cole RSC/Science Museum
19:50 Questions
20:00 Awarding the first EuCheMS Historical Landmark
Prof. Pilar Goya EuCheMS Chair
20:10 Presentation of the first EuCheMS Historical Landmark
20:30 End of the session


Before the presentation of the first EuCheMS Historical Landmark, Dr Brigitte Van Tiggelen, historian of science, chair of the EuCheMS, Working Party on the History of Chemistry, will say a few words on the rationale of a Historical Landmark program, and more generally, on making the heritage of chemistry more visible and accessible.

Then there will be two 20 minutes presentations by the following speakers:


Dr Robert Anderson FSA FRSE, historian of chemistry, is President of the Science History Institute in Philadelphia, a body which collects printed books, archives and artefacts in the fields of chemistry, engineering and the life sciences. These materials are made available for scholarly research, and also are used to develop programmes for the general public. Its library, and museum and exhibition gallery, have been established in the historic district of the city. Anderson holds a DPhil in chemistry and a diploma in archaeology. His UK career led to his being appointed director of the National Museums of Scotland, and of the British Museum. He is an emeritus fellow of Clare Hall, Cambridge, honorary fellow of St John’s College, Oxford, and an associate of the history of science department at Harvard. He has published extensively on chemistry in the Enlightenment, on museum history, and on scientific instruments.


Interest in chemistry started to fascinate sectors of the public at the end of the 18th century and became a more generally popular subject until well into the 20th century. In recent years there has been something of a decline. The talk will explore changing trends. It will consider fashionable courses of demonstration, teaching in mechanics institutes, visitation to international exhibitions and collecting and displays in museums.


Dr Rupert Cole is Associate Curator of Chemistry at the Science Museum, London. One of his academic interests is the public culture of chemistry, with particular expertise on the history of the Royal Institution. He completed his PhD in 2017 on “The Common Culture: Promoting Science at the Royal Institution in Postwar Britain”. He has published on topics such as C. P. Snow’s the “two cultures”,  BBC science television, and the public careers of the crystallographer Lawrence Bragg and the chemist George Porter. He’s currently overseeing the handling and the move of the chemical collections of the Science Museum, while interacting with the chemical community following up on the project #chemglass:


Almost half of the 479 objects the Science Museum has added to its chemistry collections since the year 2000 have been hydrometers. Going forward, we want to explore new avenues of chemical heritage, beyond instruments and lab equipment. The title ‘everyday chemistry’ reflects an ambition to preserve the day-to-day practice and experience of doing chemistry. This might be in the form of stories and memories, what UNESCO describes as ‘intangible cultural heritage’. A recent RSC social media project, #chemglass, is one example of how chemists and publics can help preserve experiences of using chemical glassware. Other areas of ‘everyday chemistry’ might include collecting aspects of the physical spaces chemists work in, reflecting the social and cultural life of the laboratory. This talk hopes to inspire a call to arms, asking how we can collect changing practices of chemistry over the last two decades and going forward: from health and safety that changed laboratory culture to new trends in ‘green chemistry’.

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