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ExhibitLab is the Science History Institute’s space in the Masao Horiba Gallery for small, focused displays that showcase specific collections, prototype new ideas, or respond to current events. Our staff members, fellows, and school and community partners curate these displays. For more information about ExhibitLab, please contact Gillian Maguire at

Admission is free.

Now On View

Working Knowledge: The Joys and Challenges of Collecting Scientific Instruments

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A Duboscq type colorimeter manufactured by the Bausch & Lomb Optical Company.

Science History Institute

Scientific instruments are close to our institutional heart, but collecting them presents challenges. What do we seek to preserve when we add an instrument to our collection? We can’t collect everything, so how do we decide which objects to keep? For instance, French instrument maker Louis Jules Duboscq introduced an elegant type of colorimeter in the 1870s. A major analytical breakthrough, its binocular design allowed for quantification of slight color differences after chemical reactions. The compact design made the model a fixture in scientific laboratories for almost a century. This instrument is as important as it is abundant, which is why it is represented in our collection. Our display considers how we define the term instrument when talking about objects from our collection and how we choose which instruments to preserve. 

This ExhibitLab was curated by Amanda L. Mahoney and Gillian Maguire.  

Past ExhibitLabs

For Best Results

January 29, 2018 to April 13, 2018  

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A bottle of flavored Bayer children’s size aspirin with a pink plastic cap.

Science History Institute

Our collection of pharmaceutical and health-related consumer products ranges from the commonplace to groundbreaking discoveries. Everyday health products that once graced the shelves of local pharmacies reveal the evolution of consumer preferences, graphic design, and beliefs about health during the 20th century. The antisyphilis drug Salvarsan, for example, developed in 1909 by Paul Ehrlich’s laboratory team, was once celebrated as a “magic bullet.” But the drug, despite claims it treated this disease without harming patients, proved to have some serious pitfalls. This display also focuses on the pharmaceutical history of pediatric treatments and safeguards for children, as well as once-taboo topics, such as women’s health and birth control.

This ExhibitLab was curated by Amanda L. Mahoney and Gillian Maguire.  

Recent Acquisitions

September 26, 2017 to January 25, 2018  


The Jogbra was recently on view in Second Skin: The Science of Stretch

Science History Institute

We are always collecting new examples of the science embedded in everyday life. This ExhibitLab focuses on our collecting roots regarding the history of chemistry, the stories new objects tell when juxtaposed with our existing collections, and the process of researching and acquiring objects related to the history of health and life sciences.

We often use the themes of our temporary exhibitions to acquire objects that broaden our permanent collection and expand research in and preservation of the material culture of science. Our recent exhibition, Second Skin: The Science of Stretch, explored the history and science of flexible textiles. This display includes newly acquired objects from that exhibition, which exemplify important historical, cultural, and scientific moments in the world of high-tech fibers.

This ExhibitLab was curated by Amanda L. Mahoney and Gillian Maguire.  

For more on the unexpected origin of the sports bra, listen to our Distillations podcast.

Picturing the Future

June 26 to September 21, 2017

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“Take One Giant Step,” a black-and-white print advertisement for A. C. Gilbert Chemistry Sets.

Science History Institute

To learn what someone values, ask them what they want the future to look like.

During the 20th century our visions of the future appeared in advertisements, product packaging, informational literature, and even instrument design. We can learn a lot about the science of the past by studying these historical depictions. Some visions were optimistic: parents believed chemistry sets empowered their children to become scientists, while new knowledge of the power of the atom revolutionzed health care. Other visions were more ominous: ads for fallout shelters with their accompanying radiation symbols warned of an end to American life as we knew it.

This ExhibitLab was curated by Deanna Day.

The Somogyi Collection

April 10 to June 23, 2017

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Ernst Leitz oil-immersion microscope.

Science History Institute

What was glucose monitoring and diet tracking for diabetes like in the 1940s?

The development of insulin and advancements in clinical chemistry made living with diabetes possible for a growing number of people by the 1920s. However, successful management of the disease required close measurement and careful tracking.

Michael Somogyi (1883–1971) was a pioneering clinical chemist responsible for breakthroughs in diabetes treatment. Born in Hungary, he was a key player in the synthesis of insulin for mass production in 1922. The Institute’s Somogyi Collection documents his lifelong career as a researcher and clinical consultant. It features objects from Somogyi’s 21-year service as chief biochemist at the Jewish Hospital of St. Louis and traces the evolution of diabetes treatment from 1920 to 1960.

This ExhibitLab was curated by Amanda L. Mahoney.

Domestic Plastics

January 9 to April 7, 2017

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Zenith Royal Hearing Aid.

Science History Institute

What was it that made mid-20th-century homes so different, so appealing? Plastics!

Synthetics of that era offered chemists unprecedented control over the material environment. Yet plastics left the confines of laboratories and factories as consumers brought these new products into their homes. Before the word plastic became associated with superficiality and disposability, manufacturers in the 1950s celebrated the material’s sturdiness, safety, and beauty. Advertisements for durable plastics promised to cut household costs and liberate housewives from messes and repeat trips to the store.

Objects from our collection dating to the 1950s and 1960s reveal a changing material culture that created new possibilities for designing a home, entertaining guests, and redefining childhood and femininity.

This ExhibitLab was curated by Roksana Filipowska.