(Roughly) Daily

Posts Tagged ‘scientific instruments

“If you’re shopping for a home entertainment system you can’t do better than a good dissecting microscope”*…

 

Harris P. Mosher lecturing at Harvard Medical School in 1929, with a giant skull made in the 1890s

In their introduction to the book version of Charles and Ray Eames’ Powers of Ten, Philip and Phyllis Morrison wrote elegantly of the importance of the evolution of the tools of science to scientific progress.  It’s the continuous improvement in these “instruments of vision” that pushes back the frontiers of knowledge, and allows us to know, ultimately to understand, more and more of the universe around us.  In an essential way, then, the history of scientific tools is the history of science.

Harvard’s Collection of Historical Scientific Instruments allows one literally to browse through that history.

The permanent collection includes over 20,000 instruments and artifacts, (including an incredible collection of  microscopes, partially pictured above).

Now through December 5, the Collection is mounting “Body of Knowledge,” an exhibition that focuses on the devices, publications, and tools that have contributed to our (still-)expanding understanding of the human body.

The title page of Andreas Vesalius’s 1543 anatomy textbook, De humani corporis fabrica (On the Fabric of the Human Body), depicting a public dissection.

It includes a copy of Vesalius’s masterpiece (as above) and anatomical models (the 78-inch-tall skull shown at the top of this post, plus a 48-in-long skeleton of a foot).  In all, it showcases the social and cultural practices of anatomy through the centuries.

For more background on the Collection, visit its site, and check out this Harvard Magazine piece; for more on the exhibit, click here and here.  Browse the collection (from whence, all of the images above) here.

* Jack Longino

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As we polish our lens, we might send birthday greetings in the form of a question to Jeopardy; the brainchild of talk-show host and game show maven Merv Griffin, it was first broadcast on this date 50 years ago, in 1964.  At sign-on, Jeopardy was an afternoon game show hosted by Art Fleming; after a decade before dinner, it moved after, as a weekly syndicated show.  Then, in 1984, the syndicated version got a facelift– Fleming was replaced by Alex Trebek– and the show went nightly…  where it’s prospered ever since.

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Written by (Roughly) Daily

March 30, 2014 at 1:01 am

Quod Erat Demonstrandum…

Barlow’s Wheel
St. Patrick’s College, Maynooth, Ireland
Today we remember Peter Barlow (1776-1862) for his mathematical tables, the Barlow Lens, and Barlow’s Wheel (1822). Electric current passes through the wheel from the axle to a mercury contact on the rim. The interaction of the current with the magnetic field of a U-magnet laid flat on the baseplate causes the wheel to rotate. Note that the presence of serrations on the wheel is unnecessary.

Thomas Greenslade, a professor emeritus at Kenyon, has a passion for the devices that have been used over the years to teach the principles of physics.  Happy for us, he is willing to share: there are hundreds of fascinating exhibits like the one above at “Instruments for Natural Philosophy.”

As we sit back under our apple trees, we might recall that it was on this date in 1790 that the first U.S. patent statute was signed into law by President Washington. Although a number of inventors had been clamoring for patents and copyrights (which were, of course, anticipated in Article I, Section 8, Clause 8 of the Constitution), the first session of the First Congress in 1789 acted on none of the petitions. On January 8, 1790, President Washington recommended in his State of the Union address that Congress give attention to the encouragement of new and useful inventions; and within the month, the House appointed a committee to draft a patent statute. Even then the process worked slowly: the first patent issued under this statute was signed by George Washington– on July 31, 1790, for Samuel Hopkins’ process to make potash and pearl ash.

It’s some measure of the power of IP to create value that, on this date in 1849, Walter Hunt of New York City was issued Patent No. 6,281– the first U.S. patent for a safety pin.  Strapped for cash, Hunt spent three hours on his invention, filed, then immediately sold the rights for the $400 that he needed.

The first U.S. patent, issued to Hopkins

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