Chemical Heritage Foundation to Receive National Endowment for the Humanities Grant

The $100,000 grant funds the development of a game prototype exploring the history of alchemy.

The Chemical Heritage Foundation (CHF) was chosen to receive an NEH Digital Projects for the Public grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH). This grant will fund the development of a game prototype exploring the history of alchemy through the lens of a young woman who embarks on her own alchemical quest in the mid-17th century. The project is a collaboration between CHF, Drexel University’s Entrepreneurial Game Studio, and Gossamer Games.

The game prototype will be based on CHF’s collection of alchemically themed paintings and rare books as well as other artifacts in the collection. “Recent decades have seen a revolution in how scholars understand alchemy,” said Erin McLeary, museum director at CHF. “Alchemy in the early modern period was not a fool’s quest for riches and eternal life: it provided economic opportunity, invited curiosity, and examined relationships between humankind and the natural world. Alchemy shaped ideas about experimental scientific practices and paved the way for modern chemistry. We are thrilled by this opportunity to use our painting and manuscript collections to bring this dynamic and exciting history of alchemical practice to a wider audience.”

Gossamer Games is an independent game design studio founded by students from Drexel’s Entrepreneurial Game Studio and supported by its Baiada Institute for Entrepreneurship. Gossamer is known for its work with aesthetic-driven games that encourage players to explore rather than compete. Its first release, “Sole,” in which players uncover the history of an ancient civilization by painting the world with light, was a finalist for the International Mobile Gaming Awards and has been showcased at the Smithsonian American Art Museum Arcade and the Boston Festival of Indie Games.

Through this project Gossamer will design exploration-driven puzzles that invite players to investigate and experiment inside digital translations of the rich environments portrayed in the museum's collection of paintings.

“We couldn't be more excited to be partnering with the Chemical Heritage Foundation to prototype a first-person puzzle adventure game set in the 'Golden Age' of alchemy. The game will invite players to step into the world of mid-17th-century London and play as a budding alchemist on a mission to unlock the secrets of early chemistry and metallurgy,” said Thomas Sharpe, founder of Gossamer Games. “The history of alchemy is deeply rooted in a blend of mystery and drama that lends itself perfectly to games. We’re thrilled to start exploring designs inspired by this beautiful collection of art that captures the excitement and wonder of scientific advancement.”

Drexel’s Entrepreneurial Game Studio is often at the center of new immersive and interactive game-play experiences around the city. Under the guidance of founder Frank Lee, the Studio has brought arcade games to Philadelphia skyscrapers, transformed a library into augmented reality theater, and could one day help us fend off an alien invasion.

“EGS brings deep knowledge of innovative game practice, fluency with navigating academic circles, and experience curating engaging digital games for the public,” Lee said. “The CHF–Gossamer–EGS partnership unites multiple sets of humanistic and digital expertise to create a game that is historically grounded, visually compelling, and informed by contemporary research on innovative gameplay.”

CHF is one of eight organizations nationwide that will receive a Digital Projects for the Public Grant. This grant is awarded to projects such as websites, mobile applications, games, and virtual environments that significantly contribute to the public’s engagement with humanities ideas.

About the Chemical Heritage Foundation (CHF)

CHF fosters dialogue on science and technology in society. Our staff and fellows study the past in order to understand the present and inform the future. We focus on matter and materials and their effects on our modern world in territory ranging from the physical sciences and industries, through the chemical sciences and engineering, to the life sciences and technologies. We collect, preserve, and exhibit historical artifacts; engage communities of scientists and engineers; and tell the stories of the people behind breakthroughs and innovations.

For media inquiries please contact Hope Corse, director of external relations, at or 215-873-8294.

Image credit: An Alchemist's Workshop with Children Playing, by Richard Brakenberg. CHF Collections.


December 14, 2017