Go back to article: Museums theme – Quest for Absolute Zero: A Human Story about Rivalry and Cold


In the Quest for Absolute Zero, Rijksmuseum Boerhaave made both the content of cold science and the action of applied cold technology subservient to the underlying human story; a story with glorious victors and tragic losers, with brilliant inspirations, incredible perseverance, tunnel vision, force of will, camaraderie, argument – much argument – and exploding apparatus. We were celebrating a Nobel Prize and commemorating a death. A relatively new historical collection of inaccessible and relatively unattractive objects with no intrinsic eloquence was brought to life by placing it in a context of a scientific race – featuring elements of theatrical backdrop, film fragments, photographic blow-ups, animations and games – and by the powerful storyline.

The success of this approach, given the scale of the external financial contributions, the massive rise in visitor numbers during the course of the exhibition and the appreciation expressed by those visitors (also for the combination with the Lakenhal exhibition) proved a real boost for the plans of Rijksmuseum Boerhaave to redevelop its permanent exhibition along similar lines. From a museum merely housing objects, Rijksmuseum Boerhaave wishes to make the transition to a story-based museum, still featuring the original objects but viewed from the point of view of cultural history rather than instrument history. After all, colourful stories about science and scientists are capable of generating enthusiasm and understanding for the exact sciences, perhaps more effectively than the sometimes overly weighty educational approach employed by certain fellow museums.

To conclude, the balance of the Quest for Absolute Zero project was extremely successful. It took a great deal of work, and at the time the Rijksmuseum Boerhaave organisation was not used to large and sometimes complicated projects of this nature. Nonetheless, we succeeded, we learned a great deal and we had plenty of fun. The exhibition was featured on television news; we attracted numerous extra visitors and, an important element for the future, we enjoyed a boost to our reputation among our colleagues, the funding agencies, the academic world and, last but not least, our visiting public.

Component DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.15180/170812/005