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Art meets science in ‘Molecules that Matter’ traveling exhibition

GRINNELL — Molecules matter. That’s the medium and the message when the interdisciplinary art and science exhibition, “Molecules That Matter,” opens Friday, Sept. 25, at Grinnell College’s Faulconer Gallery.

Large models of 10 molecules from 10 decades — aspirin, isooctane, penicillin, polyethylene, nylon, DNA, progestin, DDT, Prozac, and carbon nanotubes — invite visitors to engage with a range of artworks and material objects that demonstrate the molecules’ historic and scientific significance.

“These molecules have changed people’s lives in dramatic ways,” said Lesley Wright, director of the Faulconer Gallery. “We take all of these for granted and none existed 100 years ago, so it makes us stop and ask ‘how did we manage?’ Their significance is underscored by the presence of works of art made of or about every molecule in the exhibition.”

Co-curators Raymond Giguere, professor of chemistry at Skidmore College, and John Weber, director of the Tang Museum at Skidmore, conceived of the exhibition to “expand our knowledge of the invisible world of molecules.” Organized by the Frances Young Tang Teaching Museum and Art Gallery at Skidmore College, Saratoga Springs, New York, and the Chemical Heritage Foundation, Philadelphia, Penn., the interdisciplinary exhibition lends itself well to Grinnell’s own liberal-arts curriculum where students consider the connections of nature, society, economics, evolution, and history.

“This exhibition makes contemporary science and art engaging and acceptable to people,” said Tilly Woodward, curator of academic and public outreach. “It also allows us to explore the interdisciplinary implications and ramifications of these molecules—there are dangers with all of them, yet they also save and improve our lives.” Local public school and preschool classes will use the art and science exhibition to enhance classroom learning as well.

The Sept. 25 opening of “Molecules That Matter” will also mark the 10th anniversary of the 1999 opening of the Bucksbaum Center for the Arts, home to Faulconer Gallery, which will host the following public events related to the exhibition:

• Sept. 25 from 5 to 6:30 p.m. — Opening reception with music by Damani Phillips, instructor in music.

• Sept. 26 from 1 to 3:30 p.m. — “Get Molecular” Community Day with hands-on activities, stories, refreshments, and tours of exhibit. This is also Museum Day, an event sponsored by “Smithsonian” magazine to celebrate learning and culture.

• Oct. 2 at 5 p.m. — Gallery talk with Noyce Visiting Scholar Ilia Guzei on “X-Ray Visions of Aspirin: A Penetrating Look at the Wonder Drug.”

• Oct. 7 at 7 p.m. — Gallery tour on “Human Rights and ‘Molecules that Matter,’” co-sponsored by the Rosenfield Program in Public Affairs, International Relations, and Human Rights and the Peace Studies Program.

• Oct. 8 at 7 p.m. — Gallery talk by co-curators John Weber and Ray Giguere on “Creating a Science/Art Exhibition.”

• Oct. 14 at 7 p.m. — Gallery talk on “Art That Matters” with Andrew Kaufman, assistant professor of art, and Donna Stack, lecturer in art.

All events are in Faulconer Gallery unless otherwise noted. Gallery hours through Dec. 13 are Tuesday and Wednesday, noon to 5 p.m.; Thursday and Friday, noon to 8 p.m.; Saturday and Sunday, noon to 5 p.m.; and closed on Mondays. For more information about the exhibition and related programs, call (641) 269-4660 or visit

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