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Rectory Building of the U. Porto

Old Science Museum of the U. Porto

Fotografia de Sala do Museu de Ciência / Photo of a room of Science MuseumThe Old Science Museum of the U. Porto was created in 1996 as a dependency of the Faculty of Sciences and was located until 2015 in the Historical Building in Gomes Teixeira Square, where the University Rectory has its facilities since 2006. In the end of 2015, the Old Science Museum of the U.Porto merged with the Old Museum of Natural History of the U.Porto, giving rise to the Natural History and Science Museum of the U.Porto.

The creation of the Museum during the 1990s became possible not only due to the funding obtained from the European Union and to a growing interest for interactive science centres, but also to the moving of the Physics and Chemistry departments of the Faculty of Sciences of the University of Porto to other facilities and to the subsequent neglect of instruments and physical spaces for learning and investigation, considered obsolete.

Since its beginning, the Museum has assumed the double role of organizing and maintaining a permanent interactive exhibition while preserving and displaying its own scientific equipment or stored property.

In 2006, guardianship was assumed by the Rectory of the U. Porto although the scientific guidance continued to be done by the Faculty of Sciences, the entity responsible for nominating the Science Museum director.

When the legal requirements of the U. Porto changed, in 2009, as well as the subsequent amendments to the faculties’ statutes, the management of the museum and of the dependencies of the Faculty of Sciences became the director’s responsibility. Meanwhile, it was necessary to redefine the funding sources, the institutional framework, the mission and the structure of those entities.

Years before, in 2006, a project funded by the programme "Live Science", of the Ministry of Science, Technology and Higher Education enabled the permanent installation of a space open to the public in the following year, comprising 3 adjacent rooms in the east wing of the Rectory building.

Some of the units used in this museum are similar to those of other museums in other European Science Centres. Other units were conceived and implemented locally and, to a certain extent, were inspired by the approach to interactive centres for science as practised in the "Exploratorium" in San Francisco (USA). In 2010, a new room was opened, where a railway model powered by photovoltaic energy was installed ,encouraging the use of renewable energies, and a mirror labyrinth similar to the "Techniquest" in Cardiff.

The collection of the Old Museum, now incorporated in the MHNC-UP, consists of instruments and research equipment, models, prints, navigational charts, sculptures and pieces of furniture from several institutions such as the Royal Academy of Maritime and Trade Affairs of the City of Porto, the Office of Physics and Chemistry Laboratory of the Polytechnic Academy of Porto, the Physics, Chemistry and Mineralogy and Geology Laboratory of the Faculty of Sciences, which were the roots of the U. Porto and of the current Faculty of Sciences.

The set of collections also include instrument catalogues, letters exchanged with manufacturers, statements of expenditure, as well as a considerable amount of photographs and education testemonies.

In 2008, the Old Museum requested a historical evaluation of its collections to Neil Brown, a former curator of the "Science Museum" in London. This evaluation emphasizes the importance of the Physics collection for the rarity of some of its objects, for the range of existing manufacturers and for the relevance of its contribution to the knowledge of education at the beginning of the 20thcentury.

Among the rarest and most valuable objects comprising the science collection of the MHNC-UP is an astronomy pendulum from Arnold’s workshop in London, dated 1798, the oldest instrument in the Museum, and a pair of globes from the XIX century – terrestrial and celestial – from England. These globes are identified as the second largest globes in Portugal.

(Text adapted from: MONTEIRO, Marisa L.; BERNARDO, Luís M.; ARAÚJO, José M. - O Museu de Ciência da Universidade do Porto: coleções de ciências exatas da Faculdade de Ciências, in "Coleções Científicas Luso-brasileiras: Património a ser descoberto". Rio de Janeiro, Astronomy Museum and Related Sciences, 2010, pp. 211-230).

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