On entering The Science of Rome exhibition, the visitor is whisked into a journey in time taking him to the late 19th century, listening directly to the voice of Quintino Sella who, in a conversation with Theodor Mommsen, indicates a future for the capital of the Kingdom of Italy resting on its role as a national and international centre of science.

The exhibition is broken down into nine sections. The first seven adopt a strictly disciplinary approach (earth sciences and anthropology; chemistry; mathematics; biology and medicine; astronomy; physics), the eighth is a cameo on the Rome of Galileo Galilei and Athanasius Kircher in the 17th century and the ninth offers a vision of the present and future of science in Rome, presenting some of the more interesting studies and projects that are being developed in the city at the present time.

Each section is devised to resemble a Wunderkammer which, thanks to the incredible range of items and finds that Rome’s museums and universities contain and have loaned to the exhibition, tell the story of the discoveries and scientific advances made precisely in Rome, as well as narrating the life and ideas of the figures associated with them. On the wall opposite the one with the finds, texts and large images will help to set the narrative in context.

On entering the first room, the visitor encounters numerous fossils remains of “Rome before Rome” including the remains of the Saccopastore Neanderthal man, one of the area’s first inhabitants over 100,000 years ago, and the skull of a prehistoric elephant unearthed during the excavations required to build Via dei Fori Imperiali. After an overview of the anthropological studies, the visitor will be able to observe Giuseppe Ponzi’s period instrumentation for recording earthquakes and his geological maps.

The second section is dominated by the figure of Stanislao Cannizzaro, with a display of the instruments used in the chemical laboratory in Via Panisperna founded by the Sicilian scientist and a set of advertising posters for Italy’s chemical industry. 

The second on mathematics will recount its beauty as embodied in the architectural studies of the capital’s monuments, its ancient roots with an imperial era abacus and its modern applications with the Enigma machine used to decipher the German ally’s messages during World War II and ELEA 9000, one of the world’s very first calculators.

The fourth section, on biology and medicine, tells the story of the struggle against malaria, a sickness that struck very hard in Roman territory and that was defeated thanks, among other things, to the discoveries of Giovan Battista Grassi, whose desk and original scientific instrumentation will also be on display. The section ends with the founding of the Istituto Superiore di Sanità and with the two Nobel prize-winners who worked there, Daniel Bovet and Ernst Chain.

The section on astronomy focuses on the figure of Angelo Secchi who founded astrophysics precisely in Rome in the 19th century. Visitors will be able to admire large period telescopes and the original publications that launched this branch of science. The section on physics will contain one of the radio transmitters with which Guglielmo Marconi stunned the world and the original instruments with which Enrico Fermi and the “Via Panisperna boys” triggered the nuclear revolution. Emerging onto the balcony, visitors can admire two of the four stages of one of the Scout rockets launched from Italy’s San Marco aerospace base in Kenya and other instruments used by the Scuola di Ingegneria Aerospaziale della Sapienza.

In the next section we take a leap back in time over three centuries to discover how the papal capital provided the backdrop to one of the most important scientific disputations of the time, the cosmological question. Galileo Galilei, who supported the Copernican revolution, was summoned to Rome on several occasions to defend his principle and, ultimately, to abjure. Visitors can admire an original manuscript of his Sidereus Nuncius with several watercolours of the phases of the moon drawn by Galileo himself, his telescope and the original first editions of his most important writings, along with the documentation of the Inquisition on the issue. The room also holds original scientific instrumentation of the period and the marvellous Sciateric Tables hand-painted by Athanasius Kircher.

The last section, on the science of the future, illustrates a number of the most important research projects currently being conducted in the city.