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SIC Palermo Online Seminar

November 14, 2023 @ 2:00 pm - 3:00 pm UTC+0

We are happy to announce the program for the SIC Online Seminar for accepted speakers who could not attend and present their paper at the SIC Symposium in Palermo due to illness or other reasons. We will now get the opportunity to listen to their papers online.

The Seminar will take place at 19:00 – 21:00 PKT (Pakistan Standard Time) / 16:00 – 18:00 EET (Eastern European Time) / 15:00 – 17:00 CET (Central European Time), representing the time zones of our speakers. Our audience from the Americas can follow the seminar at 09:00 – 11:00 EST (Eastern Standard Time)

The SIC Online Seminar will be held on Zoom. Presentations will be 15 mins long, followed by discussion. Everybody is invited; if you would like to join this event, please send an email to siconlineevents@gmail.com to receive the Zoom link in advance. There is no registration deadline and no fee.

Program on 14 November

09:00 EST/ 14:00 GMT / 15:00 CET / 16:00 EET / 19:00 PKT

1) Seamless celestial globes: Lahore’s contribution to scientific instrumentation Mubashir Ul-Haq Abbasi (National University of Science and Technology, Islamabad) 


The astrolabe and the celestial globe were the two most important astronomical instruments in the Islamic world. The astrolabe may have been introduced into the Indian subcontinent by Al-Bīrūnī in the first quarter of the eleventh century, but its production commenced in the fourteenth century at the court of Firuz Shah Tughlaq. It is not known when the celestial globe reached India, but it is certain that it was known in the fourteenth century. Allahdad (fl.1567) and his six descendants dominated the production of astrolabes and celestial globes in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries at Lahore. They made not only the standard astrolabes, but also north-south astrolabes, Zawraqī astrolabes and Zarqālī astrolabes. In the production of celestial globes, they introduced a significant technical innovation. Until then the globes were first made as two concave hemispheres and then joined together. The Lahore family began to cast them as single hollow spheres by the cire perdue, or the lost wax process. This technique has a long history in the Indian subcontinent, going back to the Indus valley civilization around 3500 BCE. Qā’im Muḥammad of the Lahore family and his son Ḍiyā’ al-Dīn Muḥammad excelled in this technique; they produced some thirty exquisitely crafted seamless celestial globes in the seventeenth century. In the nineteenth century, Lālah Bulhomal (fl.1839-1851) of Lahore continued this tradition of casting celestial globes; there are extant twelve large celestial globes crafted by him; ten carry inscriptions in Persian and two in Sanskrit.

This presentation will describe the technique of casting seamless globes by the cire perdue process and draw attention to some exquisite specimens made by Ḍiyā’ al-Dīn and Bulhomal.


09:25 EST/ 14:25 GMT / 15:25 CET / 16:25 EET / 19:25 PKT

2) Windvanes or astronomical instruments

Panu Nykänen (Finnish Academy of Technical Sciences)


The Vikings travelling over the North Atlantic Ocean during the late Viking Age is a well-known saga. Some historic people travelled several times from Europe to Iceland and Greenland. How the navigators were able to pinpoint their latitude on the open sea has been under discussion for a long time. In the paper I discuss that the so-called early medieval windvanes from Scandinavian churches were originally astronomical instruments used by Viking navigators for measurement of the latitude. The same instrument was well known by the Islamic astronomers on Cordoba during the late medieval time, most famous of them was Ibn az-Zarquellu. It is possible that the Vikings’ presence first in the Mediterranean Sea area gave the possibility for them to safely cross the Atlantic Ocean. In Scandinavia there are several heavy and large instruments preserved in museums, and a few handheld models from the Baltic region.


09:45 EST/ 14:45 GMT / 15:45 CET / 16:45 EET / 19:45 PKT

3) Analysing and contextualizing John Robison’s experiment on the force-distance-relation in electricity (1769?)

Peter Heering (Europa Universität Flensburg)


In his article “Electricity” for the Supplement to the 3rd edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica, the Scottish natural philosopher John Robison claimed that he had experimentally demonstrated the force-distance relationship for electrical charges already in 1769. Robison claimed that the force varies inversely with a proportion somewhat greater that the square of the distance, he actually gave a ratio of 1/x2.06. The force-distance-relationship is nowadays attributed to the French military engineer Charles Augustin Coulomb, who, however, started his researches in electricity only in 1784 and who published a paper formulating the relation one year after that. Consequently, the question arises as to how justified Robison’s (apparent) claim to priority had been.

My contribution addresses on the one hand Robison’s device and its handling, this part is based on Heiko Beneken’s analysis of Robison’s work by means of the replication method. On the other hand, archival material will be used to discuss the context in which Robison made his measurements. From this analysis, it gets evident that Robison developed his instrument and his measurements in a context similar to that of Coulomb – the question of lightning rods.


10:10 EST/ 15:10 GMT / 16:10 CET / 17:00 EET / 20:10 PKT

4) Scientific instruments in Alexander von Humboldt’s Correspondence and Journals of his expedition to Russia, Siberia and Central Asia in 1829

Florian Schnee (Berlin-Brandenburg Academy of Sciences and Humanities)


As an empiricist, Alexander von Humboldt was convinced that the laws of nature could only be explored by means of observation, measurement and data collection. Astronomical and geomagnetic measurements, the determination of air and water temperature, the barometric determination of relative heights and, last but not least, the comparison of measured values and series of measurements were essential for him and his research. For this reason, he attached the greatest importance to the instruments he took with him on his expeditions to America, Europe, Russia and Central Asia, and to the way they functioned as accurately as possible.

The letters and travel diaries that Humboldt wrote during his journey to Russia, Siberia and Central Asia in 1829, which have so far only been published in excerpts, together with the printed travel report of his companion Gustav Rose, provide detailed information about the instruments he took with him and their use during the expedition. They also show how the instruments, but also the measuring methods, had to be adapted to the special conditions of the journey and how the enormous speed (by the standards of the time) at which the journey was carried out (Humboldt covered around 18,000 km within eight months) influenced the use of the instruments and the measurements. And they reveal the importance that both the instruments and the measurement results from other explorers (earlier and contemporary) had for Humboldt.

Finally, the newly introduced register of Humboldt’s instruments in the digital edition of the travel diaries (https://edition-humboldt.de) will be briefly presented.


10:35 EST/ 15:35 GMT / 16:35 CET / 17:35 EET / 20:35 PKT

5) From the Mines to the Museum: Vilhelm Carlheim-Gyllensköld

Karl Grandin (Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences)


In 1918 a museum for the exact sciences in Stockholm was a new idea of Vilhelm Carlheim-Gyllensköld (1859-1934), but of course this was very much typical of the times. Three years later the museum was established based on the collections of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences – its earlier physics cabinet. The talk will give an outline of this museum and a biographical presentation will be given of the somewhat peculiar man behind it.  Carlheim-Gyllensköld was a geophysicist, playing an important role in the establishment of the huge iron ore mine in the North of Sweden at Kiruna (from the sapmi word for black grouse). He was also from 1910 member of the Nobel Committee of physics and he was close personal friend with the well-known Swedish author August Strindberg (1849–1912). After his death another (peculiar) physicist took over the responsibility of the museum, Gustaf Ising (1883–1960), most known for his paper from 1924 on multistep acceleration for an accelerator, later picked up by Widerøe and later by Lawrence. After Ising’s death the museum was closed and eventually the collections were stored in the attic of the Academy in banana boxes. These collections are now in proper storage and out of the banana boxes, managed by the Academy’s Center for History of Science. The talk will investigate how Carlheim-Gyllensköld’s interests evolved from his early measurements of variations in the Earth’s magnetic fields to his ideas of unit measures manifested in his historical brick collection.



We hope to see you all at the SIC Online Seminar on 14 November! Everybody is invited; if you would like to join this event, please send an email to siconlineevents@gmail.com to receive the Zoom link in advance.


November 14, 2023
2:00 pm - 3:00 pm UTC+0
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