Celebrating the Periodic Table with Bolton Museum

09 December 2019 By Jessica Jones

There is an exciting exhibition currently running at Bolton Museum, celebrating the 150th anniversary of the periodic table of chemical elements. What’s more, 2019 is the International Year of the Periodic Table. The periodic table is one of the major achievements in science and underpins chemistry, physics and biology.

The Elements exhibition will help you learn more about the different chemical elements, how they were first recognised and how they differ.

At Neon Creations, we worked with the organisers of the exhibition to create neon signs to highlight the different elements, which now hang in the museum as part of the exhibition itself.

neon exhibition

We caught up with the brains behind the exhibition, Jo Lewis and Don Stenhouse, to find out how they planned the exhibition, what challenges they faced and what visitors of the museum think of it! Read on for the full interview.

Q1. What was the thinking behind doing the Elements exhibition?

When we worked on the Nature Gallery, there was originally an intention to include something about elements. We wanted a geology section, that includes rocks, minerals, and ores and chemical elements were a logical addition. For logistical reasons we decided to leave the elements bit out but agreed that it might be a good subject for a future exhibition and in a subsequent exhibition planning meeting it was put forward. As 2019 is the International Year of the Periodic Table it was a good time to do it.

Q2. How long did it take to plan the exhibition?

Approximately one year. We started with the concept of a giant periodic table and went from there really. Objects were selected and the plans adapted, such as the addition of the standalone Neon Creations display, because we visited the Neon Creations studio and wanted to bring a bit of their ‘wow factor’ to the exhibition. Another local company we worked with was Peron Plastics who helped us with the 4.5 metre long periodic table and brought it to life with colour changing lights. The whole space is an explosion of colour, facts and cool things to look at!

periodic table

Q3. Were there any barriers that you came across with displaying any of the elements?

Yes there were for several reasons. Over 30 elements, are radioactive and or synthetic and can’t be displayed. A few more are only found in tiny quantities in nature or are difficult to mine or process, so they can be very expensive.

Q4. How hands-on are you during the exhibition?

We have a huge event and activity program planned around the exhibition that involves us and the wider museum team. This includes things like children’s science club, theatrical performances, talks, wearable electronics and print workshops. We spend some time in the gallery on an ad hoc basis to speak to visitors and answer any questions and Jo is in there on our busier days like Saturdays.

Our visitor engagement and customer service teams have all had tours and training of the exhibition so they mainly talk to visitors and answer questions. We are hosting another training session for our visitor volunteers on 17th December.

Q5. What is the most satisfying thing about producing an exhibition like this?

Knowing that you may be telling visitors something they didn’t know and possibly enthuse them enough to want to find out more. We discussed forming a Science Club a few months ago, and it’s good to watch children who’ve been involved in that come into the exhibition and write down what we’ve presented. Science often gets discredited or ignored and it is satisfying to promote something fundamental to thousands of visitors.

The look on people’s faces and the gasps of awe when they approach the gallery is priceless!

neon element

Q6. What feedback have you had about the exhibition?

It has all been very positive. Some visitor comments were – ‘wow’, ‘amazing’, ‘it looks fantastic and it’s also interesting’ and ‘there’s something for my whole family in here’. We have had strong interest in our educational sessions from schools. Normally it is difficult to get secondary school pupils to come to the museum for any reason, but we have had a number of sessions booked.

Brian Iddon, a local retired chemist and former MP, told Don at the preview that it was the first scientific exhibition he had ever seen at Bolton Museum and ‘it’s brilliant’. He has followed this up by writing a very positive review to be published in Chemistry World, the journal of the Royal Society of Chemistry. We have been asked about the possibility of a university loaning the exhibition and may look into that.

Q7. Have there been any other notable parts of the exhibition?

The involvement of Neon Creations has been a very positive step. The process has been very straightforward and enables us to literally highlight the work of a Bolton company. The Neon Creations staff have been very enthusiastic and a pleasure to work with. The neon displays created really bring the space to life and enhance the exhibition. We are hoping to use them in our permanent Nature Gallery display after the exhibition.

neon elements

The Elements exhibition is running until Sunday 26th January and entry is free.

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