Franklin Institute to ‘reimagine’ itself for its bicentennial

The science museum on the Parkway has received a $1 million gift to develop new science exhibitions.

The Franklin Institute. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

The Franklin Institute. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

As it gets ready to turn 200 years old, the Franklin Institute is reinventing itself. The science museum on the Parkway in Philadelphia, celebrating its bicentennial in 2024, has received a $1 million gift from Bank of America to transform and update its exhibitions.

The million dollar gift will go toward replacing some of the Franklin’s current exhibits with new exhibits about things like artificial intelligence and “human 2.0” – or biological augmentation. The new exhibits will be flexible, designed to change as the science changes.

“Relevance is going to be key,” said CEO Larry Dubinski. “Technology is changing and the institute’s exhibits are going to adapt and be able to get the science out in front of visitors faster.”

The details are still being worked out as to what the new exhibitions will be, and which of the old exhibitions will be replaced, but Dubinski wants at least a few new elements in place for the Franklin’s bicentennial, three years from now.

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Dubinski’s plan to “reimagine” the Franklin Institute has been years in the making so far, but after more than a year with the COVID-19 pandemic, with its accelerated vaccine development, he believes his audiences will have a greater appreciation for science.

“Look what we are really able to accomplish within a year, getting a vaccine into people’s arms. Pretty amazing. Look at the engineering and the structures that were placed to get that out to folks,” he said. “I want people to follow in the footsteps of those doctors, those researchers, those engineers, and say, ‘Hey, I could be like that.’”

The gift was announced the week of the annual Franklin Institute Award, of which Bank of America has been the sponsor for 19 years.  The virtual ceremony on Thursday will be honoring an international roster of scientists, including Kunihiko Fukushima of Japan for his work in artificial intelligence, Kizzmekia Corbett of the National Institutes of Health for her work in vaccine development, and Jeremy Nathans of John Hopkins Medical School for his groundbreaking research on eyes and vision.

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