This web site is still under construction with much metadata and a number of items still to be entered. We plan frequent updates.
Welcome to the Grinnell College Physics Museum in the Noyce Science Center at Grinnell College
Beginnings: Informally by Prof. Grant O. Gale in 1928. Formally, by Prof. Gale in 1974 with display case construction
Collection: instruments used by Grinnell College physics faculty and students from 1882.
Size: approximately 800 objects
Displays: 24 display cases plus Kistle Library display of two Seth Thomas clocks all in the Noyce Science Center
Web Site: Contains descriptions, images, and locations for all items in the collection (underway).
- Two precision Seth Thomas observatory clocks
- Fauth transit telescope and chronometer
- Alvin Clark 8" objective lens for Hsieh telescope
- Full set of Helmholtz resonators
- Large galvanometer collection
- Meteorite collection from H. H. Nininger
- Mechanical calculator collection
- Early X-ray images, some of the first taken.
- Early transistor sent to Prof. Gale in 1950 by John Bardeen, co-inventor of the transistor.
This web site contains ample navigational page links for general browsing or for finding specific objects or specific groups of objects. Each item contains a picture, a brief description, and its location in the museum (either a specific display case or storage location).
The Physics Museum at Grinnell College consists primarily of instruments and equipment used to teach physics or do physics research at the college since its move from Davenport to Grinnell in 1859. In addition, it includes some donated physics-related equipment, such as telephone and telegraph instruments, x-ray equipment, and surveying instruments. It also includes an excellent collection of meteorites. Approximately one half of the collection is on display in twenty-four display cases in the Noyce Hall of Science at Grinnell College. Of these, fourteen cases contain for the most part scientific instruments used at Grinnell College and six cases display early technologies, such as photography, telephone, telephone cabling, telegraph, and calculator technologies. The remaining four cases contain a variety of displays such as physics student designed tee shirts from 2004 to the present and a detailed time line of the physics department.
Physics has been taught at Grinnell College since soon after the Civil War, and by 1880 the college had an excellent collection of equipment, primarily for lecture demonstrations; science courses then did not have laboratory components. In 1882 a tornado destroyed much of the campus, and most of the scientific equipment was lost. We still have a few objects that probably were here before the tornado, but most of our equipment was purchased after 1882. As the college rebuilt after the tornado, the scientific equipment was gradually replaced. When colleges began including laboratory work in science courses, equipment for such laboratory teaching was added to demonstration equipment, and our collection now includes both demonstration equipment and equipment used in teaching and research laboratories. Some of the equipment was made on the campus, some was purchased from scientific supply houses on the east coast, and some came from Germany, France, and England. The large number of electrical standards, meters, and other pieces of electrical equipment is testimony to the high interest in electricity of the physics faculty in the last years of the 19th century and first years of the 20th.
Some equipment never used in laboratories or lectures here has been given to the college and is included in the museum because of its connection with physics. Some examples: Oliver Buckley, who became Director of Research at Bell Telephone Laboratories in 1933 and a vice-president of AT&T, was a Grinnell College graduate of the class of 1909. At the college he majored in physics and mathematics. He later gave a collection of early telephones to the college, and it is now part of the museum. Robert Noyce, co-inventor of the integrated circuit and a founder of Intel, was a Grinnell College alumnus, class of 1949, and he gave the museum examples of computer chips and some materials related to chip manufacture. The museum has received x-ray equipment from physicians and dentists in Grinnell and from the local hospital. We have been given phonographs of various types, including an Edison cylinder phonograph along with some cylinders.
The museum contains a number of items of special interest. We have a large meteorite collection from an exchange of meteorites for tuition between 1939 and 1943. A set of x-ray pictures taken by Professor Almy only six weeks after Wilhelm Roentgen’s discovery of x-rays is part of collection. We have a Furth transit telescope, Furth chronograph, two Seth Thomas precision clocks, and the Alvin Clark eight-inch objective lens to the Haish telescope, all from ~1890, on display. We have an early transistor sent to Professor Gale in 1950 by Dr. John Bardeen, co-inventor of the transistor. And, we have a large collection of mechanical calculators used by Grinnell physics students.
The Grinnell College Physics Museum informally began in 1928 when Grant Gale arrived at Grinnell College as a young instructor in mathematics and physics. He immediately started collecting laboratory instruments that were no longer used in the physics laboratories. Soon, alumni and friends began sending him other physics-related items for his growing collection. In 1974, Grinnell College increased the number of display cases from two to eight and formally recognized the collection by appointing Professor Gale, upon his retirement from teaching, Professor Emeritus of Physics and Curator of the Grinnell College Physics Museum. Following Professor Gale’s death in 1998, Beryl Clotfelter, Professor Emeritus of Physics, became curator to extend the tradition that emeritus professors of physics curate the museum. The current curator is Charlie Duke, Professor Emeritus of Physics.
The museum continues to reflect Professor Gale's vision that it be a working museum with its objects often used for classroom demonstrations and that a variety of pushbutton operated features be part of the displays. The museum is truly a legacy from Professor Gale to Grinnell College.
From this web site, you may view objects from the Grinnell College Physics Museum. The site accesses a larger database serving as the catalog of the museum. Each item contains an image and a short description including purchase or construction details if available and the location of the object in the museum. Since this site is still under development, we are actively adding additional public accessible items and expanding the item descriptions.
This project, beginning in November of 2015, combines the old Physics Museum website and the off-line museum catalog into a single database as a replacement for both. The Omeka-S open-source web-publishing platform containing a MYSQL database with the Dublin Core metadata standard driving the web interface.
Charlie Duke, Professor Emeritus of Physics and Curator of the Physics Museum
Maggie Coleman, ‘20’, Assistant Curator
Elizabeth Rodrigues, Humanities & Digital Scholarship Librarian (on leave, 2019-20)
Heather Campbell, Humanities and Instruction Librarian
Julia Bauder, Social Studies and Data Services Librarian
Mark McFate, Digital Library Applications Developer
Emily Mamrak, ‘19’, Assistant Curator 2018-19
Destini Powell, ‘17’, Assistant Curator 2015-18
Mike Connor, Digital Liberal Arts Specialist 2015-2018