Exhibit explores how childhood toys teach science throughout years

By Abrahm Hurt
TheStatehouseFile.com

INDIANAPOLIS — “See butterflies turn monsters, fingertips become maps and a waterdrop reveal a universe,” read a 1971 ad for Sears microscope sets displayed in a new Indiana State Museum exhibit.

Science at Play allows visitors to explore the history of science kits and toys through a collection from the Chemical Heritage Foundation in Philadelphia.

A display shows a Merit chemistry set from the early 1960’s and a Handy Andy junior chemistry lab from 1955. The sets are part of a collection from the Chemical Heritage Foundation. Photo by Abrahm Hurt, TheStatehouseFile.com

“It really talks about the evolution or the change in toys through time,” Peggy Fisherkeller, curator of geology at the Indiana State Museum, said. “I think it also just came about because scientists — adult scientists — really remembered what inspired them as kids and what they love to do.”

Over the years, the kits have changed from early sets that displayed the magic of science to others full of chemicals that were later determined to be too dangerous.

Visitors can play with more modern kits, creating structures from brightly colored magnets and K’NEX. Throughout the exhibit, they can also read quotes about scientists and about the toys that they played with when they were kids.

John Lechleiter, chairman emeritus of Eli Lilly and Company, said chemistry sets were a motivating factor for him to study science as he progressed through his education.

“I have very fond memories of those chemistry sets, and I attribute those and maybe a few other things to my early interest in science and my decision to pursue science as a career,” he said. “It really struck home. I hadn’t seen some of these things in 40 or 50 years.”

Parts of the exhibit caught Lechleiter’s eye when he visited the Chemical Heritage Foundation’s collection because of the several chemistry sets he owned in the 1960’s. Science at Play is part of the Year of Science presented by Lilly and the exhibit is presented by Sarah and John Lechleiter and the White Oak Foundation.

A display holds a Smithsonian MicroChemistry set XM5000 from 1996 and a Midgetlab Chemical Outfit No. 10 from 1933. The sets are part of a collection from the Chemical Heritage Foundation. Photo by Abrahm Hurt, TheStatehouseFile.com

Lechleiter said he hopes the exhibit gets kids interested in science.

“I always found science to be fun and exciting and these chemistry sets —when I was a kid —enabled me to put myself in the shoes of a scientist and to use my imagination to think about all the great things I might do ahead in my life,” he said.

The exhibit will open Saturday and run through January 15, and it is included with museum admission. Ticket prices and hours of admission can be found at IndianaMuseum.org.

Abrahm Hurt is a reporter for TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.

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