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SIC Seminar October 2022

October 27, 2022 @ 9:00 am - 1:00 pm UTC

This online seminar was created to provide an opportunity for speakers who could not attend the Athens Symposium to present their papers to the SIC community.

9:00 BST / 10:00 CEST / 16:00 CST

Replicating the Enigma Machine: Code Brain in the Past, Education Today

Zhao Ke (Electronic Science and Technology Museum, University of Electronic Science and Technology of China, Chengdu)


Replication is not only the way to restore history in scientific heritage institutions, but also a means of education, especially for university heritage institutions. The Electronic Science and Technology Museum initiates a series of replications about scientific instruments, aiming to educate students. Taking the replication of the Enigma machine as an example, a group of 4 undergraduate students applies to participate. They work together to share interdisciplinary minds. Four dimensions of training become reliable for undergraduates: knowledge, research habits, engineering abilities, and presentation skills.

1. Based on their curiosity, they learn the history and principal knowledge of the Enigma machine from archives, literature, and communicating with other institutions. They can master modern technology skills like SolidWorks and 3D printing.

2. In the replication, they go back to connect with the minds of the designers. This process complements the study of the history of science and technology from the perspective of instruments. It develops the students’ habits.

3. Students find that drawings cannot answer questions about mechanical structures and circuits. From there, they identify problems, think, discuss, and solve them as developing engineering skills.

4. After replication, the students’ group does science popularization in the forms of articles, teenager courses, and exhibitions to realize the transformation from the educated to the educator.

During the implementation, the group members realize the experience of four roles: student, researcher, engineer, and educator.

9:30 BST / 10:30 CEST / 16:30 CST

Improving the didactic approach in science museums with 3D-printed working models of historical scientific instruments 

Yolanda Muñoz Rey (University of Cádiz, Spain)


From the old Cabinets of Curiosities to the current Science Museums, the profile, character, function, objectives and methodology of these institutions have evolved considerably. We have seen in them, from the primary and simple storage to the current museological innovation proposals in which the didactic and interactive function is one of the new lines of action. However, this is an approach in which we can still move forward to achieve true interactivity with the visitor that allows learning as a goal and not the simple and anecdotal physical and gaming experience. In this sense, we propose as an action, the construction of operational models, currently easily made by 3D printer, of historical scientific instruments. Its handling, oriented in and from the museum through specifically designed didactic proposals, will allow the real understanding of the instrument, not only of its operation, but also of the role it played in the area of scientific knowledge to which it belongs and in the evolution of science and the society of its historical time.

10:00 BST / 11:00 CEST / 17:00 CST

An Instrument and its Network: A 20th Century Helium-Neon-Frequency Standard

Eckhard Wallis (Deutsches Museum, Munich)


Scientific instruments acquire their meaning through their integration into networks of support und communication. As far as 20th century precision instruments are considered, some striking examples are the integration of measurements into the abstract network of units and standards or, on a more material level, the tangled clutter of signal- and power-carrying wires in contemporary laboratories.

In 2021, the Deutsches Museum acquired such a heavily network-dependent instrument: a methane-stabilized helium-neon frequency standard. Built around 1990 in Nowosibirsk in the Soviet Union, the instrument was used for precision measurements in hydrogen spectroscopy at the Max-Planck-Institut for Quantum Optics in Garching during the 1990s.

In this contribution, I intend to untangle the network connections branching from this early optical frequency standard and to analyze the local and not-so-local networks required to make this instrument work. I argue that a didactic presentation that addresses these networks may help museum audiences to get a better understanding of nature of science in quantum optics and frequency metrology.

10:30 BST / 11:30 CEST / 17:30 CST


11:00 BST / 12:00 CEST / 18:00 CST

The Cluster mission and instruments in space science

Osnat Katz (University College London and Science Museum London)


The Cluster mission is a space plasma mission developed jointly by the European Space Agency (ESA) and NASA. Originally proposed in 1982, the four satellites making up the first Cluster mission were launched in 1996 on an Ariane 5 rocket and lost under a minute into the flight. A year of discussion and negotiation followed, with scientists advocating to rebuild and re-fly the satellites. Finally, the second Cluster mission was launched in 2000 on two Soyuz-Fregat rockets and has been continuously transmitting data for over twenty years.

Cluster is typical of modern space missions; it is distributed across Earth and in space, with the four Cluster satellites reaching distances of over 120,000 km from Earth. 44 separate instruments, each made in identical sets of 4, fly in space while their flight spares remain distributed around Earth. This contrasts starkly with terrestrial scientific instruments before 1959, which were single instruments used for singular purposes.

Cluster challenges our perception of the classical scientific instrument due to its highly distributed nature, but also affords unique opportunities to study the present and even the future of scientific instruments in space science and astronomy. Drawing on my original research, I will analyse the material culture and oral testimony associated with the Cluster mission to present a model of the present and future of scientific instruments in space science.

11:30 BST / 12:30 CEST / 18:30 CST

On a Geoheliocentric Planetarium Conceived by Nicolaus Raimarus Ursus

Günther Oestmann (Institute for Philosophy, Literature, History of Science and Technology, Technische Universität Berlin) 


In 1588 Nicolaus Raimarus Ursus published his geoheliocentric world system and rendered a schematic diagram of a planetarium which had been executed by Jost Bürgi, but is not extant. On the basis of this diagram a functional model was commissioned, which is displayed in the Dithmarscher Landesmuseum in Meldorf (Schleswig-Holstein). Its reconstruction and fabrication will be described. A second copy for the planned Tsinghua University Science Museum (Beijing) is currently in the making.

12:00 BST / 13:00 CEST / 19:00 CST

The Agency of Instruments: A Way Forwards

Jane Wess (London)


There has been a large and increasing literature concerning the controversial concept of agency of scientific instruments by academic historians in the time SIC has been active. Many historians recognise this fundamental attribute of instruments. Instruments dictate how things should be done, as in what is done and by whom, they dictate who can afford them and who can afford to be trained in their use, they resist the smooth running of obtaining information from the natural phenomena under investigation. Instruments enshrine authority because they embody ‘black boxed’ agreed knowledge. Their cost is frequently rewarded by numerical results which have authority.

Agency is a key aspect of ‘abstraction’ defined as: ‘The act of considering something as a general quality or characteristic, apart from concrete realities, specific objects, or actual instances.’ The detailed knowledge of many in the instrument community would be enhanced by increased engagement with these more abstract approaches, and vice-versa; those in academia would similarly benefit from a closer acquaintance with more technical outputs. Cross-fertilisation would enrich both cultures.

The paper revisits the history of these ideas in academia, before considering some individual examples. It is hoped to provoke discussion into possible approaches for instrument studies in future.


October 27, 2022
9:00 am - 1:00 pm UTC
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