HoFoP explores representation of physics in museums

people standing in a group listening to a guide.
May 24, 2024

On May 15, the Yale History and Foundations of Physics Reading Group (HoFoP) held a discussion called, “How Does Physics Make it to the Museum,” along with a visit to the history of science and technology exhibit in the newly re-opened Peabody Museum, facilitated by Professor Paola Bertucci, who is the curator of the Peabody’s History of Science and Technology Division.

The discussion focused mainly on how to humanize the scientific experience in museum exhibits and how the people who contribute to the scientific process can best be represented. Additional discussion points included how to engage audiences of all ages and how to incorporate current, ongoing research along with the historical objects and more finalized scientific results.

Molly Watts, graduate student in physics, co-coordinator of HoFoP, and a member of Yale’s Wright Lab, said, “The curation of the scientific instruments on the second floor [of the Peabody Museum] was especially engaging. The descriptions juxtaposed accessible scientific facts with the historical context of the time showing how the the science of the era influenced and was influenced by its surroundings.”

Watts continued, “Examples included the extensive deforestation of gutta-percha forests in Malaysia for their sap, which was an ideal insulator for cables, and the contributions of “human computers”—primarily women—whose essential roles in technological advances have often been overlooked. The curation prompted many of the scientists on the tour to reflect on potential impacts of our experiments and to consider who is being included in the narrative of scientific progress.”

HoFoP is an interdisciplinary group of students and faculty at Yale dedicated to exploring and discussing topics in the philosophy and history of physics, and of science more broadly. HoFoP engages with foundational texts as well as with contemporary ideas and guest speakers.

See our Flickr album for pictures of the event.

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