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History of the chemistry laboratory explored by Upminster scientist and author

PUBLISHED: 15:00 26 July 2015

Peter Morris, who has written a new book called The Matter Factory, on the history of chemistry laboratories. Picture: Jennie Hills

Peter Morris, who has written a new book called The Matter Factory, on the history of chemistry laboratories. Picture: Jennie Hills

Science Museum, London

Peering up at the dark, twinkling sky, a 10-year-old Peter Morris did not know what life had in store for him.

Catching a glimpse of a shooting star, he watched it illuminate his Upminster road.

Fifty years later, after graduating from Oxford University and becoming a senior curator at the Science Museum, Peter’s still shining bright as the author of The Matter Factory.

The book explores the development of the chemistry laboratory between 1600 and 2000 and looks at the factors that have influenced its transformation.

Explaining why the book is not just for academics, Peter said: “I treat the subject in an interesting way.

“Everyone has been in a laboratory at one time or another – if only at school.”

Peter’s scientific life may have begun with star-gazing, but he fell into chemistry.

“I found it really easy and being a lazy so-and-so I stuck with chemistry.

“I built a laboratory in my father’s shed and, with the help of our local pharmacist, made unusual chemicals.”

Peter became a historian of chemistry and worked for the Open University and the Chemical Heritage Foundation. But it was his work delving into the Science Museum’s private collections which inspired his book.

Talking about why more young people should get into science, Peter said: “Science is tremendously useful and helps us to understand ourselves and the cosmos we live in.

“I always found it amazing you could hold in your hand a compound which had never existed before.

“A science degree can lead to many different careers, you don’t end up wearing a white coat in a laboratory all your life, unless you want to.”

The Matter Factor is on sale at Swan Books, Upminster.

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