Exploring Matter

Project summary

The goal of this project has been to provide an interactive, inexpensive, chemistry-related museum exhibit for visitors in a wide range of ages.

Chemistry is not well represented in most science museums for a variety of reasons: safety concerns, need for substantial supervision, chemical reactions use costly materials that must continually be replenished and properly disposed of. Each of our 21 stations has been designed to overcome these constraints.

The plans have considerably evolved since the initial conception of this project. We think the exhibit will provide stimulating and educational experiences that will motivate visitors to learn more. 


  1. Plans for the exhibit have evolved substantially since the time the grant application was submitted. A partial exhibit is anticipated to be available near the end of August 2016.
  2. 21 stations have been designed to address such topics as the properties of matter with an emphasis on density, use of the periodic table to identify 12 elements, problem solving exercises, chemical and nuclear reactions, and contemporary societal issues, such as climate change.
  3. Each exhibit contains questions and a discussion of the basic science involved in both English and Spanish. A strong effort will be made to invite members of the Hispanic community to visit the Great Valley Museum and its new chemistry exhibit.

Most successful aspect

This remains to be determined but visitors should learn about the periodic table and the importance of chemistry in their lives. Climate change is an extremely important and urgent issue confronting society and the exhibit stresses that the public must gain a better understanding of the concepts and take appropriate action to minimize the effects. Even information related to the Iran nuclear treaty is discussed with the hope that there will be some understanding of concepts such as isotopes and uranium enrichment.

Tips for similar projects

Basically, the constraints named above need to be seriously considered. The only chemical reactions we are including are reversible and do not need replenishing or disposal of materials. The emphasis is on properties which can be determined without using up materials.

Safety is always the first concern with chemistry. All containers are made out of plastic and every effort is being made to protect visitors from accidents and from disturbing the exhibit. Because our museum has minimal funds for docents, the exhibits have been designed to be visitor friendly with little or no supervision required.

Next steps

Based on our observations and visitor suggestions, each of the stations will be subject to modification and improvement. Even at this stage, we are now considering adding a spectral analysis system that will enable visitors to discover that air is primarily made up of nitrogen, oxygen, and argon. We hope to publish the exhibit plans in the Journal of Chemical Education.