Did you know?
Philadelphia is the birthplace of America and American medicine.
Philadelphia is home to the nation’s first hospital, medical school, children’s hospital, college of pharmacy, and medical library. As a city steeped in science history, it’s no wonder that the Brookings Institution has called Philadelphia one of the top Knowledge Capitals in the U.S. and Europe.
Here are the top science museums and attractions in Philadelphia:
The Franklin Institute
One of the oldest and premier centers of science education and development in the United States, The Franklin Institute was founded in 1824 and was designed to inspire a passion for science in the spirit and honor of American scientist, Benjamin Franklin. Featuring 12 permanent exhibits including Your Brain, the signature walk-through 5,000 square-foot Giant Heart, the Fels Planetarium, an IMAX Theater, and much more, the popular museum provides hands-on learning experiences that introduce and reinforce key science concepts in creative and engaging ways.
Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University
Explore the oldest natural history museum in the Americas when you dig for dinosaur fossils, stroll among live butterflies, touch live animals and take behind-the-scenes tours at the Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University. The Academy’s working scientists spend their days focusing on critical global issues in biodiversity, evolution, and environmental science and their research efforts provide accurate, real-time scientific information to the public on environmental and sustainability matters.
Science History Institute
The free-to-visit museum at the Science History Institute in Old City is open to the public, complete with recently refreshed permanent galleries featuring new objects, stories, and discoveries. Take a watery journey through history and science with the Institute’s Downstream exhibition (on view through July 31, 2023), which explores more than 200 years of water analysis and protection in the United States. Visitors can also learn about key figures throughout the history of science, such as the builder of the first electrospray ionization mass spectrometer, Masamichi Yamashita, and discover the interesting history of common objects with the museum’s interactive Object Explorer. No advanced tickets are required to visit. Museum visitors five years of age and older must provide proof of full vaccination for entry. Photos are acceptable. Masks are also required for all visitors. To learn more and plan your visit, click here.
Mütter Museum of the College of Physicians of Philadelphia
The College of Physicians of Philadelphia was founded in 1787 and is one of the oldest professional medical organizations in the country, providing a place for both medical professionals and the general public to learn about medicine as both a science and an art. Examine a collection of fascinating scientific discoveries about the human body with wax models, antique medical equipment, and anatomical and pathological specimens at the Mütter Museum. Until summer 2022, the Historical Medical Library of The College of Physicians of Philadelphia – the oldest independent medical library in the U.S. which is directly above the museum – was only open to researchers by appointment. Now for the first time in more than 200 years, weekend visitors to the Mütter can now explore the Library on Saturdays and Sundays from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Ticket holders will have access to the centuries-old medical library filled with historic treasures, including rare books from the 14th century, first editions, scrolls, stone tablets, artwork, and so much more.
The nation’s first hospital, founded in 1751 by Benjamin Franklin and Dr. Thomas Bond, offers tours of the historic Pine Building with stops at a 13,000 volume library (home to a preserved seven-pound tumor) and “the dreaded circular room,” the oldest surgical amphitheater in the country. Many respected doctors operated on patients in the amphitheater, including Philadelphia native Dr. Philip Syng Physick, known as the “father of American surgery.” Pennsylvania Hospital is part of the University of Pennsylvania, whose medical school was the first in the U.S.
A “must see” destination that invites visitors to uncover the mysteries of ancient Egypt, Rome, Greece, Asia, and the Middle East, Penn Museum‘s Ancient Egypt: From Discovery to Display special exhibition offers publicly-accessible “visible storage,” allowing visitors the opportunity to follow the path of an artifact in a three-part 6,000 sq.-ft. exhibition. See what life was like in ancient Egypt through objects representing gods, royalty, and everyday individuals. Get a closer look at breathtaking artifacts from the Old Kingdom, also known as the “Age of the Pyramids,” starting in 2613 BCE, through the time of Cleopatra’s death in 30 BCE. Learn more about excavation and observe conservators in action as they work to preserve Egyptian artifacts. See the museum’s 3,000-plus year-old 12.5-ton red granite Sphinx – the largest in the Western Hemisphere – on display in the main entrance hall.
University City Science Center
For over 50 years, the University City Science Center has supported startups, research, and economic development in the life sciences, healthcare, physical sciences, and emerging technology sectors. By providing resources and programming for any stage of a business’s lifecycle, the Science Center helps entrepreneurs and innovators move their ideas and technologies out of the lab, the workshop or the garage, and into the marketplace where they can make a difference. The University City Science Center includes Quorum, an entrepreneurs’ clubhouse and event space for the innovation community, Venture Café Philadelphia, a weekly gathering and mini conference that takes place every Thursday from 3-8 p.m. (free and open to the public), and FirstHand, a program dedicated to introducing middle and high school students to STEM through hands-on project-based learning.
Wagner Free Institute of Science
Founded in 1855, the Wagner Free Institute of Science is dedicated to providing free public education in science and its evening science courses are in their 158th year, making them the oldest program devoted to free adult education in the United States. The National Historic Landmark building houses more than 100,000 natural history specimens including fossils, shells, minerals and mounted animal skeletons and skins displayed in original wood and glass cabinets.
Cover photo of the Giant Heart at The Franklin Institute. Photo by E. Cunicelli for PHLCVB.