Archive for the 'medical scientific instruments' Category

aesthetics, ageing, art and science, history of technology, medical scientific instruments, visual studies

Help with information about rollators

I am currently researching a piece on rollators. Based on artistic research investigating the aesthetics and materiality of these essential but perhaps under appreciated objects I am struggling with finding some further information.

It is generally accepted that the first rollator appeared in the 1970s and was designed by Bernt Leander from Sweden. There is no record of a ‘first’ rollator and no history of the initial designs. Unable to find a person responsible for design and manufacture of rollators  I emailed the general Swedish inquiry contact at Invacare, the overall worldwide distributor but I have had no reply. I know that Dolomite was taken over by Invacare and their factory is in Anderstorp. A specific question I asked is regarding the range of colours available, particularly in 1997 in the Dolomite Futura range.

Thomas has kindly emailed his science/tech colleagues in Sweden but I wondered if anyone else might also have information. Academic texts are few and are mainly concerned with the effects on the joints of rollator users and effects on patients with other health issues and in assisting rehabilitation. There is very little about the actual object and its history.

Can anyone point me in the right direction for further information? Any help would be greatly appreciated

aesthetics of biomedicine, art and biomed, history of medicine, history of technology, medical scientific instruments, medical technology, visualization

The intensive care unit on display

One of my favourite fellow bloggers, medical photographer Øystein Horgmo, has just written about how he was recently invited to document a family taking farewell of a young father in an intensive care unit.

It’s a moving story. But what actually caught my interest was this painting (by medical doctor Joseph Dwaihy and artist Sara Dykstra), which Øystein uses the illustrate the story.

Based on a photograph from the Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center’s first intensive care unit, circa 1955 (read more here), the painting is reminiscient of Norman Rockwell-realism. Like Rockwell, Dwaihy and Dykstra portray people in mundane situations. It’s people who play the primary role. The instruments are background props.

Compare Dwaihy and Dykstra’s painting of the 1955 ICU motif with a photo of a contemporary ICU unit. Today, there are indeed still people (a patient, a doctor, maybe a relative) around—but they seem to play a secondary role to the instruments.

In the cartoon below, the central role of instruments in an ICU is emphasized. The patient is invisible, the doctor is on his way out. Here the ICU is all about the instruments:

acquisition, history of medicine, history of science, history of technology, medical scientific instruments, medical technology

The history of the microplate — a ubiquitous biomedical lab technology

One of my favourite objects for acquisition and display from the world of biomedical and clinical laboratories is the microplate (microtiter plate, microwell plate).

A microplate is simply a series of small test tubes (‘wells’) arranged in a regular matrix pattern on a plastic plate, usually made from transparent polystyrene.

The little plate makes it possible to handle many samples in parallell—the most common size is 96 wells, but there are plates with several thousand wells—and the results can be read in an automated plate reader. In addition, the small size of the wells reduces sample volumes (from milliliter scale to nanoliter scale), which in turn saves money spent on reagents, like enzymes, which can be forbiddingly expensive.

So it’s simple, low-tech, modest, cheap and cost-saving—no doubt the main reasons why the microplate is a ubiquitous tool in laboratories around the world for all kinds of biomedical research and clinical diagnostics. Most of today’s high-throughput analysis in genomics and proteomics is unthinkable without microplates.

In other words—the perfect lab technology.

What about the history of the microplate? Professional historians of medicine and/or technology haven’t paid much attention to the unassuming plastic lab device. After a few minutes on the web, however, I found out that the earliest microplate seems to have been constructed by the Hungarian medical microbiologist Gyula Takácsy (1914-1980). The Hungarian National Center for Epidemiology writes on their website that:

To respond to the shortage in laboratory supplies and a severe influenza outbreak in the early 50s in Hungary, Dr. Takácsy developed several excellent innovative lab supplies and techniques much ahead of his age. Describing his technical innovation, the spiral loop instead of pipette and glass-plates with wells instead of tubes, he used the term micromethods published in Hungarian in 1952 and in 1955 in English. He was the first to have the notion to apply calibrated spiral wire loops for multiple simultaneous serial dilutions in plastic multiwell strips.

“… very small volumes of blood taken from the fingertip or from laboratory animals can be taken up and diluted for quantitative work. The technique has been found particularly useful in virus research, since it is not negligible how much has to be used from costly immune sera and antigens”.

His paper focused on the use of spiral loops for serial dilutions and the testing methods for haemagglutination and complement fixation, however, the “8×12 grooves” that “can take up to 0.15 ml fluid” could describe the modern microplate.

So disease and shortage of supplies was apparently the mother of microplate invention. Also in the 1950s, US inventor John Liner (who founded a company called Linbro, which was later merged into Flow Laboratories Inc, which in turn was swallowed by ICN Flow, which is taken has been over by MTX Lab Systems; mergers and acquisitions in the medical and laboratory device industry is an extremely interesting history in its own right) introduced a vacuum-formed panel with 96 wells. Looking back in the late 1990′s, Liner wrote that “I consider myself  the grandfather to the disposable microplate, about 1953 I used a white styrene vacuum formed panel …”. Yet another case of multiple invention.

I also found some technical details about the early development of microplate automation here, and I found a reference to a web publication (Ray Manns, Microplate history. 2nd ed. 1999; in L.J. Kricka and S.R. Master, ‘Quality Control and Protein Microarrays’, Clinical Chemistry vol. 55: 1053–1055 (2009)—but the publication seems to be removed from the site.

So the microplate is almost untrodden territory for historians of medical technology. Maybe a medical student would like to explore its history and importance for the development of genomics and proteomics in a term paper?

art and biomed, displays/exhibits, history of medicine, history of science, history of technology, medical scientific instruments, news

Intro to ‘The Chemistry of Life’ exhibition as a joint science and art exhibition (beta version)

logo trykWe’ve just opened our new exhibition, ‘The Chemistry of Life’, in our satellite exhibition area in the main building of the Faculty of Health Sciences (the Panum Building). For the record, here’s the talk I gave at the opening (for images from the opening, see here):

The occasion for Medical Museion’s new exhibition, ’The Chemistry of Life’, is the new Center for Basic Metabolic Research here at the Faculty of Health Sciences.

But the Center is only the occasion. What you will see in a few minutes is not an exhibition about any of the aspects of metabolism—diabetes, or obesity, or insulin resistance, or the metabolic syndrome—which the Center will be focus on in the years to come.

Instead, we have chosen to take a look at the long research tradition that the Center has grown out of. We are presenting four snapshots from the long and complex history of metabolic research. Each snapshot represents a constellation of people, things and ideas from a significant phase in this history. And to make it easier for you to differentiate between these four constellations, we have given them different colours: green, orange, blue and lilac.

santoriolilleWe begin in Italy back in the early 17th century, where we examplify an early approach to metabolism with Santorio Santorio, a medical doctor in Padua, who made his way into the hall of fame of medical history, because he applied Galileo Galilei’s quantitative principle to physiology: “Measure what is measurable, and make measurable what is not”. For example, Santorio famously put himself in a chair balance to measure how his body lost weight even when no excretions could be registered.

Unfortunately, our tight budget hasn’t allowed us pay the insurance costs for borrowing original 17th century instruments from our Italian science museum colleagues. So to illustrate Santorio’s quantitative spirit, we had to find objects—balances, pulse meters, and thermometers—from later periods, in our own collections.

panumlilleThen we make a leap forward, more than 200 years in time, to Copenhagen in the mid-19th century, when Peter Ludvig Panum laid the foundation of the strong Danish tradition for experimental physiology. Medical Museion has a wonderful collection of instruments used by mid- and late century Danish physiologists—it’s every historical instrument collector’s dream-come-true (and one of the reasons why we soon need to strengthen the fire security around these internationally unique collections even more).

kroghlilleAgain a leap, now another 50 years, to the Nobel winning research done by August Krogh and by his wife Marie Krogh in the first decades of the 20th century. August Krogh was a pioneer in the study of whole-body gas exchange and also a very prolific inventor of instruments. We actually have quite a few of these in Medical Museion’s collections, and we are very proud to be able to display some of these in this show, for example this balance spirometer, which Marie Krogh used in her clinical studies of basic metabolic rates:


And finally, the last leap. In the fourth (lilac) theme we are entering a territory, which historians so far have largely stayed away from, namely contemporary research in molecular metabolism, genomic research, genome-wide association studies and so forth. We are shaky grounds here, because we don’t have the historical distance to the events. molecularlilleAs historians, we don’t really know yet which the significant breakthroughs have been. We don’t know who the Santorios, the Panums and the Kroghs of contemporary molecular metabolic studies are. For us, these people are still Nomina Nescimus (unknown names), and therefore we need your help to identify them and their contributions. I’ll get back to this in a few minutes.

Like all serious science exhibitions, ‘The Chemistry of Life’ is actually research-based. The two main curators—postdoc Adam Bencard and former consultant Sven Erik Hansen—have read quite a lot from the 19th and 20th physiological literature, and spent months looking at objects and images in our collection. Every word in this exhibition has been chosen with great care, from both medical, historical and philosophical points of view. In one sense then (in terms of the making of it) this is a research-based exhibition. But in another sense (in terms of the way it presents itself to the spectator), we think of it rather as a work of art.

Not just as a display of works of art, like this painting by David Goodsell at Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla (which we commissioned from him specifically for this occasion):


We also see the exhibition itself as an art installation. By taking things out of their laboratory context and placing them in this new setting, they are transformed, from being scientific objects to becoming art objects. Taken as a whole they constitute a joint science and art exhibition. Not sci-art, but joint science and art.

By thinking exhibitions about science in terms of art installations and art exhibitions, Medical Museion in joining a growing trend within the world of museums of science, technology and medicine. Most of these mueums still understand themselves as informal learning institutions. They want to make people, including students, interested in science by teaching the history of science.

But what we at Medical Museion – and some of our good colleagues, like the Wellcome Collection in London – are increasingly trying to do, is to work out an alternative to this didactical understanding of what science museums and their exhibitions are good for.

Instead of making exhibitions that teach and explain science and the history of science, we rather want to engage the audience to reflect. Not because we don’t believe in the importance of learning about science and its history. But because we believe learning is done much better by other means—in teaching laboratories, by reading books, or through the internet—than by means of exhibitions. What the exhibition medium is good at, is to engage people’s aesthetic sensibilities. By whetting the appetite of the senses, exhibitions can evoke a more subjective, personal-based and thereby deeper reflection about science, its history and its future.

Back to the fourth theme (the lilac one) about today’s metabolic research. Like a growing number of museums—but not necessarily the same museums who think in terms of art installations—we believe that exhibition making has to be built on participation. Of course, museum professionals take a lot of pride in trying to produce perfectly researched and perfectly designed exhibitions (and we at Medical Museion are no exception). Yet, we must realize that such pride in perfection does not necessarily result in engaged visitors.

And for that reason, some museums around the world have begun to ask their visitors and peers to contribute more actively to the museum functions. In analogy to social web media, some museums are now thinking in terms of the ‘participatory museum’ (‘museum 2.0’).

With respect to collections, the idea of a participatory museum is not a particularly new one. For example, our museum here in Copenhagen has been participatory since its foundation in 1907, in the sense that most objects in our rich collections have been donated by medical doctors. Also for ‘The Chemistry of Life’ we have collected from scientists and medical device companies.

With respect to exhibitions, however, few science museums have so far thought these in terms of participation. But this is about change. ‘The Chemistry of Life’ is an experiment in participatory exhibition making. 5208427115_6bb07abd80_mLike software, which is never really finished, but is improved by the responses from the customers, we have thought it—especially the fourth chapter on ‘Molecular Metabolism—as a ‘beta version’.

By labeling it ‘beta’ we are inviting all faculty, technical staff and students at the University of Copenhagen to help us developing ‘The Chemistry of Life’. Instead of us telling you what is going on in metabolic research, we want you to educate us. For example, we will invite scientists, who have been part of the development of the last decades of metabolic research to a seminar, where we will ask them to tell us what they think are the most important idas, events and people in the history of the field. They may not agree among themselves, but we will nevertheless be more knowledgeable after the seminar.

We are also planning an ‘object’-day, where we invite scientists and medical doctors from the entire region to bring images of their favourite objects, or (even better) bring in the objects themselves. The result should hopefully be that, at the official opening of the Center for Basic Metabolic Research in the spring, we can show a revised version of ‘The Chemistry of Life’, especially a much more interesting and thought-provoking fourth theme.

The notion of ‘beta’ also indicates how Medical Museion will work together with the Center in the years to come. We are right now making plans for a series of exhibitions about diabetes, obesity and the new metabolic syndrome—to be shown both in Denmark and abroad, both to professionals and to the general public—and we very much want to do this in close co-operation with scientists and students here at the Faculty.

Before I give the word back to the Dean, I want to express my gratitude to the individuals, institutions and companies, who have made this exhibition possible:

  • Arne Astrup, Faculty of Life Sciences, University of Copenhagen
  • Lene Berlick, Illumina, Little Chesterford
  • Jan Fahrenkrug, Bispebjerg Hospital, Copenhagen
  • Pia Gåsland, Agilent Technologies, Hørsholm
  • David Goodsell, The Scripps Research Institute, La Jolla
  • Jens Juul Holst, Faculty of Health Sciences, University of Copenhagen
  • Anders Johnsen, Rigshospitalet, Copenhagen
  • John Gargul Lind, Faculty of Life Sciences, University of Copenhagen
  • Oluf Borbye Pedersen, Faculty of Life Sciences, University of Copenhagen
  • Jens F. Rehfeldt, Rigshospitalet, Copenhagen
  • Thue Schwartz, Faculty of Health Science, University of Copenhagen
  • Anna Smith, The Wellcome Collection, London
  • Mao Tanabe, Kanehisa Laboratory, Kyoto

and to the Novo Nordisk Foundation for its generous economic support.

And finally the exhibition team. If this was a scientific article, the team would be presented somewhat like this:

Bencard A, Hansen SE, Thorsted M, Madsen H, Gerdes N, Vilstrup-Møller NC, Meyer I, Pedersen BV, Soderqvist T. The chemistry of life: four chapters in the history of metabolic research. Panum Building 2010; 4:1

Or more conventionally like this:

  • Curators: Adam Bencard, Sven Erik Hansen
  • Collection staff: Nanna Gerdes, Niels Christian Vilstrup-Møller, Ion Meyer
  • Architect: Mikael Thorsted
  • Graphic design: Helle Madsen
  • Graphic production: Exponent Stougaard A/S
  • Producers: Bente Vinge Pedersen, Thomas Söderqvist

Here we are:


Speaking for all of us: I hope you will enjoy this appetizer to a future co-operative science communication programme here at the Faculty which shall engage both scientists and the public in what has been going on in metabolic research in the past, what is going on today, and what we might expect from the future.

acquisition, collections, medical scientific instruments, recent biomed

Collecting contemporary medicine

One of the sessions at the September conference dealt with the problems and challenges in collecting contemporary medicine.


Judy M. Chelnick presented the challenges of collecting today as being mainly lack of space, and the difficulty in trying to guess what objects will be historically valuable to your collections in the future. Read Judy’s full abstract here.

James Edmonson went on to talk about the importance of collecting the advertising and marketing strategies of contemporary medicine as well as the products themselves, because money plays such a major role in the medical industry of today. Read James’ full abstract here.

The last speaker of the session John Durant suggested the need to further develop our relationships with researchers and scientists, who despite their commitment to public outreach are forward-thinking and little inclined to preserve their own immediate past. Unfortunately, due to technical problems, John’s presentation was not video recorded; however you can read the full abstract for his talk here.

The discussion afterwards included comments from Roger Cooter, Jennifer Nieves and Robert Bud.

See a list of the abstracts here. Read more about the EAMHMS video clip project here.

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ageing, biotech, medical humanities, medical scientific instruments, medical technology, philosophy of medicine, recent biomed

The patient perspective in collecting

At last month’s conference, Jan-Eric Olsén talked about the tendency in contemporary medicine and society in general to constantly monitor our own health.

Jan-Eric pointed to the fact that there is a fine line between monitoring and surveillance, and that patients should be aware of that before uncritically embracing these new technologies. Read Jan-Eric’s full abstract here.


In the discussion afterwards it was pointed out that some patients can actually gain personal freedom from a smart textile t-shirt taking over the constant monitoring of their vital signs. One person said that she wouldn’t have been able to attend the conference, if it hadn’t been for these very technologies helping her monitor her diabetic child over a great distance.

On the other hand, many of these products are advertised for people without a diagnosis, to constantly reassure them that they are healthy. What are the consequences of constantly monitoring your own health? Some suggested it might lead to some sort of universal hypochondria.

The discussion (at the end of the video clip) included comments from Lucy Lyons, Karen Ingham, Jim Garretts, Danny Birchall, Wendy Atkinson, John Durant, Nurin Veis and Ken Arnold.

See a list of the abstracts here. Read more about the EAMHMS video clip project here.

collections, history of medicine, medical scientific instruments, medical technology, web resources

Historical medical artefacts online

Last autumn I wrote about Donald Blaufox’s online collection of historical medical artefacts (MoHMA):

Nicely and competently curated and beautifully represented in images, the MoHMA website is yet another example of how important private collectors have been, and still are, for the preservation and communication of the material medical heritage.

Dr. Blaufox has now reviewed the site, record by record, improved the texts and replaced and added a lot of images. A labour of love.

aesthetics of biomedicine, collections, displays/exhibits, event, history of medicine, history of technology, medical scientific instruments

Using our collections to put current trends in microscopy in perspective

1lunch time

One of our basic aims here at Medical Museion is to put current trends in biomedicine in a longer historical perspective. Last Friday, we got yet another opportunity for doing this, when the new Core Facility for Integrated Microscopy at the Faculty of Health Sciences opened together with an international research symposium on the state-of-the-art of microscopy.

1mmm interestingIn the hallway outside the symposium room, we displayed a selection of six of our most beautiful old microscopes that represent the development from early simple single lenses to end of the 19th century compound microscopes. The aim was to make the symposium participants better appreciate the beauty of early microscopes and the craftsmanship that has gone into constructing them.

During the lunch break, I had a chat with Peter Evennett, who has edited the English version of Harald Moe’s classical The Story of the Microscope together with Chris Hammond. Peter and Chris, who are members of the Royal Microscopical Society’s outreach and education committee, has helped us select the displayed items from our large collection of microscopes and write the showcase texts for the exhibition, which was designed and put together by Bente and Ion.

1magnifying glassThe oldest microscope (or rather replica of a microscope) selected is actually only a lens in a brass fitting, made in 1670 by Anthony van Leuwenhoek of Delft, who for the first time ever was able to clearly observe life on an incredibly small scale. Holding the lens at a slant towards the light, he was able to see living bacteria and wriggling, human sperm cells. It was the beginning of a whole new era for science.

1beaglemikroskopPeter went on to tell me how early microscopes weren’t used for science, as I thought, but were a kind of intellectual hobby and prestige objects for wealthy gentlemen. Consequently many of the microscopes from this period are quite charming and exquisite. It wasn’t until the 1830s — when the wine merchant J. J. Lister was able to produce objectives that minimised the colour fringing — that the microscope was seriously introduced into science. And so in 1839 a group of scientists got together to propose a toast to the instrument and to found the Royal Microscopical Society.

On display was also a modern single lens microscope from 1848, just like the one Darwin brought with him on the Beagle. The newest microscopes in the exhibition were compound microscopes from the end of the 19th century. They had a double lens system, with an objective lens that projected the image from the sample up through the tube to the eye lens, which worked as a magnifying glass. The light was redirected from a window or an oil lamp via a small built-in mirror, to hit the sample from below and carry the image up the tube, to the pupil of the scientist’s eye.

And then Peter’s efforts to educate me became technical …

Though it was by means of light that the microscope functioned, light was also the factor setting the limit for how detailed the samples could be shown. Opposed to what many people think, the basic principle in microscopy is not magnification, but  resolution. In the 1860s and 1870s, the German physician Ernst Abbe (co-owner of the Carl Zeiss AG, the famous microscope producer) discovered that the smallest distance you can have between two things before the images of them merge — and thereby determining how detailed a picture you can see in a microscope — is limited by three factors:  1) the angle of the light entering the microscope, 2) the substance through which the light has to pass, and 3) the wavelength of the light.

Of these three limiting factors the last is now being contested by using electrons with a wavelength 100.000 times smaller than visible light. But, as Peter puts it, that’s using tricks.

collections, curation, history of medicine, history of technology, material studies, medical scientific instruments, medical technology, social networking

Using the rete list for collective curating online

Recently I announced a quiz to get more information about a historical syringe that a couple of friends had bought for me. This quiz was far from easy since we had no information on the syringe whatsoever. Medical Museion’s guest researcher and former chief physician Sven Erik Hansen was the first to make a suggestion on our Danish blog — he thought it might had been be used to treat haemorrhoids.

Sven Erik’s was a qualified guess, but it seems like the area of expertise that we are dealing with here is rather odontology. Thomas put a query about the syringe on rete, the mailing list for curators, historians, students, collectors, dealers, etc, interested in the history of scientific instruments, and immediately received some very interesting answers. First out was Frank Manasek: 

This type of syringe was common in dentistry or in minor surgery where local anesthetics (such as lidocaine) would be used. Later syringes of this style were designed to use disposable ampoules of anesthetic, and disposable needles. (This one predates both.) The needle on this example is long, suggesting its use in mandibular blocks.

Following Franks lead Alistair Kwan elaborated:

I was just about to write almost the same thing. The last time I asked a dentist about the move away from these, he said that patients are more scared of them because they are big and shiny, and harder to
keep out of sight — convenience and cost of disposables did not play into his decision, though they are primary issues in debates between surgeons, surgical nurses and hospital administrators.

If you compare with today’s common disposables, the plunger design involves a different handhold that increases control through tight spaces and increases pressure on the contents. If you try them out, you can experience how the palm-grip hold is much less subject to little wobbles in the finger and thumb joints. (A high-stability grip for the disposables is to wrap them in all four fingers of a fist, which limits where you can work.)

You can also experience how the palm-grip hold and the lighter two-finger hold are suited to injecting targets at different heights and orientations. You cannot comfortably inject straight down with the
palm grip hold unless you are leaning right over the patient. But your forearm is positioned for easy aiming sideways or forwards or upwards, as into the nerves in the mandibular joint.

For times when you want a pistol or palm grip (e.g. in veterinary medicine), there are handles for disposable syringes. The handles derive from earlier syringes in which they were inbuilt. In recent years (decades?) they have simply had the syringe removed, leaving a hollow or brackets in which to insert a disposable. Similarly with ring grips, now marketed for use by non-medical people with frail hands who need to administer to themselves or family members, and for cake decorating.

Easy disassembly makes cleaning easier but it sometimes owes more to manufacturing processes than concern for scrubbing and autoclaving. A device like this is often cheaper to mass-produce from standard stock than by building all components from scratch. If it goes together easily, it often follows that it comes apart easily as well. Today’s one-way barbed fasteners and sonic welders have of course
cancelled that rule.

Now what began as an artefact without a history suddenly had spawned a fascinating insight into the world of dentistry. Peter Morris continued (still on the rete list):

These syringes are still in very common use by dentists in the UK. I don’t recognise the disposables mentioned by Alistair. Personally I always try to avoid the jab if I can which provokes friction between me and the dentist. I would say the needle is a little bit thicker than it appears in the photograph, but it may just be a matter of the scale of the photograph (and the psychological effect of it going into your mouth). A quick look on the web throws up JS Dental Manufacturing Inc of Ridgefield Connecticut. I cannot find out how long it has been in business but it seems well established.

And back to Alistair:

I should clarify a bit though: the common disposables are less stable than the big dental model when used in the mouth owing to how they  have to be held. What I originally wrote (in a low-energy moment at the end of work yesterday) was unclear, though I’m sure that your exhibit writers will have no trouble doing better. (I’m now at the start of the day so am more critical of what I write!)

And that critical attitude might be what made Alistair return with one last comment:

It might also be worth indicating that some anaesthesia techniques begin with aspirating by withdrawing the plunger to suck a little on the tissue that the needle has entered. This tests whether you are in the right place: the colour of the liquid obtained indicates the extent of blood supply. If you get blood, you know to withdraw the needle and start again. (I find needle-guiding techniques very clever. Other common rules are to locate external markers for guidance, and to hit bone or a sudden resistance change as an indicator for depth. Some markers for mandibular anaesthesia are in the ear which is why the dentist puts his finger there — as target to aim for — while inserting the needle.)

Aspiration is reflected in some plunger handles: they have a ring for the thumb.

It’s more difficult to aspirate with pistol-grip and palm-grip syringes because pulling and pushing require different holds. That may entail having an assistant steady the patient’s head.

Following Peter’s post, I had a quick look at some on-line catalogues and saw that both metal and disposable plastic syringes are sold by dental equipment suppliers.

So thanks to our fellow histrorians and curators on the rete list, we’ve been able to construct a much more detailed curatorial story about the syringe than I ever imagined when I first posted the original quiz.

And so we need a winner. The stern panel of judges (who will remain anonymous) has decided to a name Alistair Kwan the winner. So Alistair, whenever you come to Copenhagen, please visit us here at Medical Museion and claim your prize.

collections, conferences, displays/exhibits, history of medicine, history of technology, medical scientific instruments, medical technology, public outreach

Instruments on display

Medical museums are usually full with old and new medical science instruments. But they tend to be kept in storage because it is difficult to display them in a meaningful way. It’s much easier to put moulages, pickled organs and surgical instruments on show. Medical science instruments usually need truckloads of description and contextualisaton to make sense in museum displays. (Probably because they don’t ‘talk’, some people would say :-)

Neither do many museum curators give much thought to the historicity of their display techniques. How have display practices changed over time and how do these practices reflect museum culture, politics and technologies?

Such question wil hopefully be discussed at the 29th symposium of the Scientific Instrument Commission, which will be held in Firenze, 4-9 October 2010 on the theme ‘Instruments on display’, i.e., how instruments have been presented in scientific collections, museums and permanent and temporary exhibitions throughout modern history up to the present:

Did didactic, scientific, celebrative, propagandistic and rhetorical considerations significantly influence the manner of displaying instruments? How were instruments presented in a Wunderkammer of the Renaissance, in a 18th-century cabinet or in a 19th-century exhibition? How and why are they shown in contemporary science museums?

This year’s symposium is sponsored and organized by Istituto e Museo di Storia della Scienza (Museo Galileo) and Fondazione Scienza e Tecnica. The meeting is open to “anyone interested in the history, preservation, documentation of use of scientific instruments”, whether academic scholars, curators, collectors or students.

Send abstract before 1 June, 2010 by filling in this template.
More info on the symposium website.

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