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Philosophy in Philadelphia

As everyone else gears up for the ACS meeting, I’ve had the pleasure of spending the last couple of days at the International Society for the Philosophy of Chemistry 2009 Summer Symposium in Philadelphia, where I’ve been learning about metaphysics, reductionism, holism, structural realism, and–the buzzword of the week–mereology.

CHF's main exhibit hall

The meeting has been hosted by the Chemical Heritage Foundation. C&EN was last at the CHF a year ago, when the foundation hosted a reception during the 2008 Fall ACS meeting. The museum wasn’t open yet but attendees got a sneak peek at the “Molecules that Matter” exhibit.

The museum’s permanent exhibition, Making Modernity, is now on display. I’ve had a few moments to wander among the displays, seeing some of Irving Geis’ early protein structure drawings, Arnold Beckman’s pH meters, Irving Langmuir’s Nobel Prize scrapbook, and the Elmat silicon ingot crystal puller. It’s really a terrific tour through recent chemical history and I wish I had more time to spend in the exhibit hall. I’m afraid I didn’t even make it in to see sLowlife in the museum’s rotating exhibit room. If you’re in Philly, go check it out and come tell me what I missed!

Alchemy a la Newton

ISPC meeting attendees also got a special treat this afternoon. After lunch, we were taken up to the CHF library, where James Voelkel, CHF’s curator of rare books, allowed us to see a few of the library’s treasures, including a first edition of Robert Boyle’s The Sceptical Chymist

, an alchemical manuscript handwritten by Isaac Newton describing some of the stages for making the Philosopher’s Stone, and a Russian first edition book by Dmitri Mendeleev that included his first periodic table. The Newton manuscript was perhaps my favorite–it was fascinating to read the procedure, including the old alchemical symbols, in Newton’s own hand.

Photo credits: Jyllian Kemsley

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