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Project Background

Molecules That Matter will showcase ten organic substances--one per decade--that profoundly shaped life in the 20th century.  The central scientific theme of Molecules That Matter is the idea that the collective scientific understanding of our world at the molecular level has permitted humans the opportunity to alter the natural evolution of the biosphere, as well as society and the economy, on a scale unimagined by previous generations.  Molecules That Matter will invite visitors to explore areas of daily life in which organic molecules have made paramount contributions.  The exhibit will also present ways in which society has influenced the direction of research and development of molecular science, seen through contributions by scholars from a range of academic disciplines. 

While no ten substances could adequately represent the complexity of 20th century chemical history, the selection process involved careful iteration to arrive at a set of molecules that provide a powerful and scientifically solid basis for achieving the objectives of the exhibition.  The focus has been to choose compounds that have had undeniable and deep-reaching influences on people’s lives and human culture, both at the time they were introduced as well as today. 

Raymond J. Giguere, Professor of Chemistry at Skidmore College, conceived of the exhibition.  Molecules for the exhibition were selected by a Scientific Advisory Board, consisting of practicing scientists, and reviewed by chemistry Nobel laureate Professors Roald Hoffmann (Cornell) and Dudley Herschbach (Harvard). The curatorial team will work together with Tang Director and co-curator John Weber and Professor Giguere to determine additional content and objects for the exhibit. 

Molecules That Matter will invite people into this fascinating microcosmic world and encourage visitors to question the history, development and influence that organic compounds have on many aspects of our lives, even on our cultural identity.  This exhibit will raise public awareness of the truly fundamental nature of molecular research, while contextualizing period objects, photographs, stories, publications, and art works will create a series of multi-faceted links between scientific breakthroughs and our culture.