The Department of Physics Historical Collection
The Department of Physics houses a large collection of historic documents and scientific equipment. A few of the equipment items, about 20, are on display but hundreds have been cached away over the last few decades in cupboards and drawers around Stirling Hall for safe keeping. Some pieces were used in physics and astronomy research, some in teaching labs, and others were early lecture demonstration apparatus for the teaching of heat, light, sound, electrical phenomena, astronomy and measurement.
Several pieces predate confederation, and, altogether, the collection contains the history of science at Queen’s, forming a material record of the development of physics and astronomy from 1850 through the end of the classical period, through the atomic and quantum revolution and up to the present day. Particularly notable are a number of astronomical instruments and artifacts which the University inherited from the Kingston Observatory, built as the first in Upper Canada in 1856, when it was dismantled . Most of the early pieces are from European makers, with the later ones from the U.S.A. but, throughout, there are items, particularly lecture demonstration pieces, that were fabricated by instrument makers of the department. Also made locally are observatory clocks designed and constructed by Nathan Dupuis, Professor of Mathematics at Queen’s and the first Dean of the Faculty of Practical Science from 1894.
Bernard Ziomkiewicz and Prof. Malcolm Stott, with the help of summer students, are presently organizing and cataloguing the collection with the end goal of displaying sets for viewing by students and other members of Queen’s and the general public. Exhibitions have great pedagogical value and highlight the history of Queen’s, science in Canada or the history of aspects of science. Among his other publications on the Queen’s collection, Bernard Ziomkiewicz contributed to the first international SICU conference at Dartmouth College on this subject.
1. V.A. Hughes, J. Roy. Astronomical Soc. Canada, 80,124 (1986).
2. B. Ziomkiewicz, “The Physics Collection of Queen’s University”, SICU, Dartmouth (2004).