Since beginning to digitize and put its national science and technology artifact collection online in 2015, Ingenium – Canada’s Museums of Science and Innovation has received valuable knowledge contributions and insights from many outside sources.
For instance, when University of Toronto historian of medicine Dr Chris Rutty was researching early Canadian pharmaceutical success story Connaught Laboratories, maker of antitoxins and vaccines against rabies, diphtheria, tetanus, and smallpox, he came across digital records of a vial of Spanish flu vaccine in Ingenium’s collection holdings. Connaught, which started in Toronto in 1914, has a distinguished history of producing antitoxins and vaccines, and was one of the first labs to produce life-saving insulin in large amounts.
Dr Rutty’s online discovery highlighted for Dr David Pantalony, Ingenium’s Curator of Physical Sciences and Medicine, the depth of Ingenium’s collection, as well as the value of digitizing it and making it available online for anyone to search who has access to the Internet. Ingenium’s vial is thought to be the only one in Canada and one of a very few in the world.
Pantalony explains that Ingenium’s science and technology collection is very wide and deep and that it is impossible for any one person to be an expert in all of it. As different artifacts and archives will be important to various researchers at varying times, everyone can engage with the online digital collection in their own meaningful ways and contribute to Canada’s base of science and technology knowledge and research.
The discovery this year of the Spanish flu vaccine vial in collection is timely as this is the anniversary of the flu’s devastation at the tail end of the First World War. The Spanish flu is estimated to have killed 40 million people worldwide in 1918 and 1919. As as 50,000 died from the flu, that equaled scale Canada’s World War I dead. Dr Pantalony emphasized for this article that Ingenium’s Spanish flu vaccine is inert and harmless.