|Vol. 4 Iss. 1
The Chemical Educator
© 1999 Springer-Verlag New York, Inc.
George B. Kauffman
California State University, Fresno, Fresno, CA 93740-0070
Instruments of Science: An Historical Encyclopedia Robert Bud and Deborah Jean Warner (Eds.) Garland Encyclopedias in the History of Science Vol. 2; Garland Reference Library of the Social Sciences Vol. 936; The Science Museum, London and The National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution in association with Garland Publishing, Inc.: New York & London, 1998. Illustrations. xxv + 709 pp. 18.4 x 26.0 cm. $138.00 Hardbound. ISBN 0-8153-1561-9.
This authoritative volume, whose editors have been awarded the 1998 Paul Bung Prize of the Hans R. Jenemann Foundation for an outstanding publication in the history of scientific instruments, resulted from a collaboration between two national museums - the Science Museum in London, where Robert Bud is Head of Research (Collections), and the National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, where Deborah Jean Warner is Curator of Physical Science Collections. Consequently, it draws on the strengths of these institutions' object, archival, and picture collections.
This valuable sourcebook was written by 223 scientists, instrument designers, and historians, including Nobel laureates R. Bruce Merrifield and Joshua Lederberg, and Dexter History of Chemistry awardees Robert G. W. Anderson, Seymour H. Mauskopf, John T. Stock, and Ferenc Szabadváry, from fifteen countries (with the United Kingdom and the United States predominating, with 95 and 75 contributors, respectively). It contains 327 entries, some with multiple authors and most about a thousand words in length, alphabetically arranged from Abacus to X-ray machine, describing instruments relating to the mathematical sciences from antiquity onwards, the natural philosophy of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, physics, chemistry, and the newly emerging life sciences of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, as well as the applied and engineering sciences so increasingly prominent in the present day. It explores devices designed for cutting-edge research as well as those for routine testing. A number of the contributors have had firsthand experience with the instruments about which they are writing. For example, British atmospheric scientist James E. Lovelock, famed as the proponent of the Gaia hypothesis that the Earth is a complex, interdependent system, authored the entry on the electron capture detector, which he invented in 1957 and used to demonstrate that synthetic gases such as chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) had spread globally throughout the atmosphere, leading to the discovery of the hole in the ozone layer.
In keeping with their historical approach, the editors have included instruments that no longer figure in modern conceptions of science, including early modern drawing instruments and sectors used in mathematics and geometry, the spheres and astrolabes of astronomy, and the cross-staffs and sextants of navigation. However, the encyclopedia is thoroughly up-to-date, for it includes recent developments in biology and biotechnology that confound our traditional ideas of an instrument, such as four widely used laboratory organisms crucial in biological research - Escherichia coli, Neurospora, Drosophila, and the mouse. (The importance of the computer in modern life is underscored by the amusing fact that when I first encountered the word "mouse" here, I assumed that it referred to the plastic device that I am clicking and dragging as I compose this review, rather than a furry little rodent.) The importance of applied science is reflected by the inclusion of instruments used for routine testing and monitoring in sites such as hospitals, petroleum refineries, and airplane cockpits.
Each signed entry explains how the particular device works, how it is used, and who developed it, and it includes a bibliography of up to five articles or books (some as recent as 1997) and, in many cases, a photograph or diagram of the instrument. The devices were selected from texts on the history of science, trade catalogues, museum collections, and treatises on modern scientific practice. Cross-references to other entries are indicated in boldface type, and a detailed index (37 double-column pages) facilitates location of material.
Inasmuch as chemistry is "the central science," many of the entries will be of interest to practicing chemists and chemical educators. Among those of particular interest to us are Balance, Chemical; Battery; Burette; Blowpipe; Calorimeter (with a sectioned diagram of Lavoisier's instrument); Chromatograph; Colorimeter; Distillation; Differential Thermal Analyzer; Electrophoretic Apparatus; Furnace; Galvanometer; Gas Analyzer; Melting Point Apparatus; Microscope, Ultra-; Osmometer; pH Meter; Polarograph; Potentiometer; Polarimeter; Polymerase Chain Reaction; Pyrometer; Refractometer; Spectrometer, Atomic Absorption, Mass, and Nuclear Magnetic Resonance; Spectrophotometer; Spectroscope; Thermobalance; Thermometer; Vacuum Gauge; Van Slyke Gasometric Apparatus; Vapor Density, Boiling Point, and Freezing Point Apparatus; and Viscometer. I read the Slide Rule entry with a touch of nostalgia. Although the volume contains entries on the Bunsen absorptiometer and furnace, the simple but ubiquitous Bunsen burner is not included. Items in everyday use in chemical laboratories such as the beaker, condenser, flask, funnel, test tube, wash bottle, and water bath (bain Marie) are lacking, but they may have been considered too simple for inclusion.
Instruments of Science is the first reference book to address the immense historical range of instruments and also the first to consider applications, innovations, and costs. Its emphasis on twentieth-century devices and disciplines makes it especially valuable to students and scholars of modern science and technology, and the beauty of some of the antique instruments makes it a valuable guide for collectors, dealers, and curators. Chemical educators will find it ideally suited for reference, browsing, or reading, and a great source of lecture material.