The Science History Institute, a nonprofit in Old City, has introduced a new attraction in
its temporary exhibition space: ‘Downstream’. The exhibit investigates pollution in waterways in
Philadelphia and surrounding areas.
The museum, founded in 1982, focuses on the modern world’s foundation of material and
life sciences. Downstream specifically tells the story of water quality throughout history.
Beginning in the late 1700s and going until the present day, the exhibit takes visitors from
Philadelphia’s earliest concerns about clean water through the passage of the Clean Water Act in
1972 and to the 21st century’s emerging issues with the quality of drinking water all over the
“We tell a story [where] we spread out from Philadelphia to the whole United States, and
then later on the world,” says Roger Turner, the curator for exhibits and artifacts for the museum.
“We’re all affected by water pollution, and water quality is relevant for every person who
The presence of pollution in waters worldwide is especially relevant today, with the
ongoing concerns of keeping water clean. Downstream explores those concerns with an
explanation of foreign objects polluting global waters. “We’re hearing more and more about it in
the news,” says Jesse Smith, the museum’s director of curatorial affairs. “The exhibit concludes
by examining the emerging challenge of microplastics in water, which are found in waterways all
around the world.”
As with the Downstream exhibit, the museum’s aim is to get visitors to learn how science
connects to their everyday lives. “We really try to nest that history of science: those analytical
instruments, those scientific techniques into broader stories,” says Smith. “I think that [the]
temporary exhibition space and the permanent exhibition are complimentary but different ways
of learning more about the history of science.”
This exhibit is open to the public until July 31, 2023.
written by Shawna James