Catalyst Museum

Entertainment & Arts

Europe, United Kingdom, Halton

Catalyst is a science centre and museum devoted to the chemical industry. Its full title is Catalyst Science Discovery Centre. It is located in Widnes, Cheshire, in the north west of England, and situated on the north bank of the River Mersey (grid reference SJ512841). The museum is the world's first museum dedicated to the chemical industry, although museums devoted to chemistry (rather than to the chemical industry) such as Kazan chemical museum, Farsman Mineralogy Museum, and Zelinsky Chemistry Museum, Museum "Chemical Industry of the USSR" in the former VDNKh USSR and Kiev Museum of Chemical Industry did exist earlier. It opened in 1989 and its original title was "The Museum of the Chemical Industry". The museum is housed in an old four-storey building with modern extensions. The building was originally known as Tower Building and was constructed around 1860 by John Hutchinson as the administrative centre for his alkali business. It later became the head office of the Gossage soap company, which at one time was the largest of its kind in the world and handled 50% of the UK's soap exports. Moreover, the town of Widnes was once considered to be the centre of the chemical manufacturing industry in the North West and has strongly been influenced by it for the last 170 years. In 1989 a glass lift and an enclosed glazed roof-top observation deck, designed by , were added to the building in order to develop it into a museum. In 1994–95 an extension was added to the north to contain further exhibits. The centre gives information to visitors, including school parties, about science, particularly chemistry. In addition to static exhibitions and hands-on experiments, it contains the Alchemy Theatre which gives three-dimensional presentations and allows interactive voting. Family workshops are arranged during school and bank holidays. The centre organises a Science Club for 11 to 14 year-olds which meets monthly. The museum holds a collection of archives relating to the chemical industry. These include documents, photographs and the entire research archive of the ICI General Chemical Division. According to former director Dr. Gordon Rintoul, as quoted in an article about the opening of the new building, one of the main purposes of the museum was to forge closer links between industry and the public and industry and education. Catalyst is a charitable trust with a Board of Trustees. The development of the museum was initially funded by chemical industry companies, UK and local government, and funding has also come from the European Union, and a grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund. It is now supported by a number of partners and further helped by a group of volunteers, the Friends of Catalyst. Currently, the museum attracts some 30,000 visitors per annum. About 60% of the annual total is accounted for by school classes for which Catalyst provides an education programme that links directly to the National Curriculum. Catalyst holds the accreditation of ‘Quality Assured Visitor Attraction’ and to date, has won fourteen major awards, including the prestigious Gulbenkian award.