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Dream Drives: Elements of Life And Death At Chemical Heritage Museum

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) —A stone’s throw away from some famous Philly sites is a free museum dedicated to the elements: The Chemical Heritage Museum.

The museum is in the heart of Old City, in a building thousands of people walk by: the Chemical Heritage Foundation’s museum at 3rd and Chestnut.

Visitors are greeted by strange vintage machines and elaborate video displays, bubbling with the story of chemistry.

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“Our museum tries to really blend art and culture and society, and really showcase the chemistry of everyday life,” said display curator Elisabeth Berry Drago.

We mean really ordinary, like your old chemistry set, or nylon stockings and bras.

If you love technology, there are enough vintage lab supplies to satisfy a mad scientist.

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“People like to get in and look really closely at buttons and the insides of machines and take pictures, which we encourage,” said Ann Elizabeth Wiener, who directs museum operations.

James Firnhaber of Chinatown was visiting for the first time. “We try to make it a point to visit all the museums in our area,” James said. “This one is really cool.”

Some of the stuff is rusty, and that’s on purpose. It’s part of a temporary exhibit called “Things Fall Apart,” which breaks down how objects break down. There, we found an old friend.

“The Barbie doll in the case!” Meisha laughed. “So what’s going on here?”

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“Barbies are made out of two different kinds of plastics,” Elisabeth said. “Plasticizer is basically what makes plastics flexible, and it loses plasticizer over time. It becomes hard and more brittle, and her legs actually get sticky. So this is part of the process of plastics change and plastics decay.”

You don’t even need to pay to take this stroll through science.

“I just think it’s really interesting knowing how all the stuff works together,” James said.

“I invite people to come in and learn a little bit about what’s really around you,” Elisabeth said. “What’s in the stuff that you use every day? What’s going to happen to it over time?”

The Chemical Heritage Museum is at 315 Chestnut Street in Philadelphia.

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