Research report: The Armsby respiration calorimeter

By Nicole Welk-Joerger (History and Sociology of Science, University of Pennsylvania)

The Armsby respiration calorimeter was the first of its kind in the world. Completed by 1902, and based on Wilbur Atwater’s human device, Henry Prentiss Armsby’s device was large enough to accommodate and calculate heat production in cattle. These calorimetric measurements not only helped determine the metabolism of these large food animals but determine the nutritive quality of the foods they ate. Through the first half of the 20th century, the device was converted to accommodate sheep, humans, and even used to measure the metabolism of microorganisms until its accession into a museum in the 1960s. With a generous travel grant from SIS, I was able to visit Pennsylvania State University’s (PSU) archives to research the device and visit the outside of the calorimeter building while the inside was undergoing repairs.

My visit proved that there is still much to learn about this device and its position in America’s nutrition science history. The archive holds over one-hundred detailed lab reports of experiments that were completed with the device. Many of these books contain loose sheets of paper outlining the tireless work scientists and their assistants spent on calculating not only heat, excrement, and emissions from cattle, but quality control of the device. The publications that resulted from these experiments were printed in English and German with worldwide circulation.  Scholars from around the world visited the device. And scientists that worked with Armsby and the Animal Nutrition Institute (the calorimeter its main feature) proved to be very involved in the early 20th-century political climate of the U.S.

Earlier this year while preparing the museum for repairs, staff found a treasure trove of new materials related to Armsby’s calorimeter and the Animal Nutrition Institute. They found a box of documents and photographs sitting within the calorimeter’s old, non-working freezer beneath a toppling pile of bulletin reprints. The items are currently being held at PSU’s Pasto Agricultural Museum until they can be properly processed with Special Collections. However, given my connections and the timing of my visit, I was able to get a sneak peak of the primary source material. They appear to highlight Armsby’s earlier publications with the Wisconsin Agricultural Experiment Station, his course materials as a professor at PSU, and photographs of the scientists who worked with the calorimeter after Armsby’s death in 1921.      

All images were used with permission from the Eberly Family Special Collections Library, Penn State University Libraries.

Archives consulted

  • “Science in Agriculture Vol. 23, No. 4, 1976,” Henry P. Armsby Article Reprints, 1892-1976. PSUA 75. Penn State University Archives, Special Collections Library, Penn State University Libraries.
  • ‘"Die nutzbare Energie des Timothyheues." Landwirtschaftliche Jahrbucher, 1904.’ Henry P. Armsby Article Reprints, 1892-1976. PSUA 75. Penn State University Archives, Special Collections Library, Penn State University Libraries.
  • “Calorimeter—Foreign Visitors,” Photographic vertical files, Physical Plant 1855-present. PSUA 1184. Penn State University Archives, Special Collections Library, Penn State University Libraries.
  • “Small photograph of Dr. Armsby,” William Frear papers, 1883-1922. PSUA 362. Penn State University Archives, Special Collections Library, Penn State University Libraries.
  • “Calorimeter Log Book,” Animal Nutrition Institute records, 1882-1960. PSUA 44. Penn State University Archives, Special Collections Library, Penn State University Libraries.

Visit to the Whipple Museum (Cambridge), 7th Feb

The Main Gallery of the Whipple Museum

The Main Gallery of the Whipple Museum

SIS members are invited to the Whipple Museum of the History of Science (Cambridge) on Wednesday February 7th, 2018, for an afternoon tour and object-handling session. Details are as follows:

  • (12.30pm: Museum open to visitors)
  • 2pm–3pm: Guided tour of the Whipple Museum’s new special exhibition, Astronomy & Empire, from the Curator of Modern Sciences, Joshua Nall
  • 3pm–4pm: Handling session led by Boris Jardine and Joshua Nall, giving SIS members the opportunity to examine some of the Museum’s special and curious objects
  • (4.30pm: Museum closes to visitors)

The Whipple Museum was founded in 1944 when Robert Stewart Whipple presented his collection of scientific instruments to the University of Cambridge. The Museum holds an internationally important collection of scientific instruments and models, dating from the Middle Ages to the present.

Members should make their own way there (see the map here), there will be no payment necessary, but donations to the museum from visiting members would be welcome on the day.  The address is: Whipple Museum of the History of Science, Free School Lane, Cambridge CB2 3RH. Website: 

BULLETIN 134/135 – September/December 2017

Owing to a delay in uploading issue 134, the SIS is delighted to present the online versions of BOTH Bulletin 134 and 135 – the contents and selected articles from Bulletin 134 are now online here, and from 135 here. These two issues feature plenty of SIS news (report of the AGM, account of our visit to the wonderful Combe Mill), as well as articles on John Cuff, Richard Long, Humfrey Cole and (many!) others...

Antique Scientific Instrument Fair


The SIS will be represented at the 61st Antique Scientific Instrument Fair. Details:

22nd October 2017
10am to 3.00pm      

Admission £5
Early entry (9.00am) £20

DoubleTree by Hilton
2 Bridge Place, Victoria
London SW1V 1QA

From the website:

The fair, the largest of its type in the world, is held twice a year in April and October. It attracts dealers and collectors from all over the world and presents an amazing display of antique instruments of science, medicine and technology. You will find microscopes, telescopes, maritime antiques, surveyor's instruments, globes, pharmaceutical and medical sets, electrostatic machines, magic lanterns, optical toys, corkscrews, clocks, compasses, architect's drawing sets, books, rules, orreries, calculating machines, early telegraph equipment . . . . . and all available for purchase from as little as a few pounds! In 2017 the fair moves into its 31st year and the October fair will be the 61st!!

Public lecture: Silke Ackermann, 20 November 2017

Fifth Turner Memorial Lecture of the Scientific Instrument Society

Dr Silke Ackermann, In the Service of Religion? ‘Science in the Islamic World’ in the Museum

5.30pm for 6.00pm on Monday 20th November 2017

King Harald V Room, The In & Out (Naval and Military) Club, No.4 St James’s Square, London SW1Y 4JU

The lecture is free and open to the general public, no booking is required, however as a Private Members Club a dress code is observed and you may be refused entry if this is not adhered to. The King Harald V room is at the top of the stairs on the left – there is a lift if required.

Dress code: Gentlemen: jacket and tie, Ladies: smart separates, dresses or business attire; No sports shoes or clothing.

Abstract: In the Museum ‘Islam’ or ‘Islamist’ are words that we read in the papers almost daily – frequently in a negative context, as unreflective labels for an amorphous group of people or ideas. ‘Islamic’ or ‘Islamicate’ are labels that have been used to refer to objects – in an equally ill-defined way. The former is often used to refer to the origin of an object with a nebulous reference to religion, the latter was introduced in the 1970s to indicate a cultural rather than a religious context - whilst for most non-specialists an intended clarity frequently caused further confusion.

So what do we actually mean when we refer to ‘Islamic Science’ in our museum galleries? What do our audiences expect when we invite them to join us in exploring ‘scientific instruments from the Islamic World’? The Museum of the History of Science in Oxford has - largely unbeknown to most visitors - one of the finest such collections. How should we explain this topic and how should we display the objects? And is the use of 'science in the service of religion' an exclusively 'Islamic' notion?  The lecture will reflect on this multifaceted and frequently challenging subject then and now – and how we might move on from here.

Dr Silke Ackermann studied History, Languages and Cultures of the Orient, and History of Science at Frankfurt University (Germany). She worked for 16 years in a variety of curatorial and managerial roles at the British Museum before taking up the Directorship of the Oxford University Museum of the History of Science (MHS) following a two-year stint at a German University between these two roles. Silke has twice served on the Committee of the Scientific Instrument Society and has just stepped down as President of the Scientific Instrument Commission. With her team at the MHS she is about to launch 'Towards 2024', the vision for the 100th anniversary of the Museum.

The lecture will be followed by an optional bookable Buffet Reception from 7.00pm to 8.45pm at the cost of £32.50 per person. To attend, please complete this form below and return it with your payment by 1st November.

Astrolabe rete, by Muḥammad Ṣāliḥ Tatawī, 1666/7, Thatta (present day Pakistan), © The Museum of the History of Science, Oxford, inv. no. 33474.


SIS Study Tour to South Wales, 10–15 September 2017

The Big Pit winding tower

The Big Pit winding tower

Staying in a hotel in central Cardiff, we will spend the week exploring the industrial, social and technical heritage of South Wales. Programme highlights include visits to the Royal Mint, Big Pit, the Department of Physics at the University of Cardiff, plus the opportunity to view items held in the reserve collections at museums in Cardiff, Swansea and Merthyr Tydfil.

Please contact the Executive Officer ( for more details. The deadline for applications is 7th July 2017.

From Pharmaceutical Innovation to Public Engagement: Stephen Carter and the Micrarium in Buxton

by Viviane Quirke

In 1981, a new kind of museum opened in Buxton’s old Pump Room. It was the ‘Micrarium’, created by Dr Stephen Carter, who had previously been involved in cancer research at ICI’s Pharmaceutical Research Centre in Cheshire. The Micrarium’s ambition was to make the microscopical world, which Carter had explored in his work for ICI, more readily accessible to the wider public. For this Carter developed a remote-controlled projection microscope and, with the help of his wife Janet and their three daughters, made 50 versions of it in their home workshop in time for the opening. After winning an award from the British Tourist Authority and receiving a Museum of the Year Award, the Micrarium became the first recipient of a grant from the Fund for the Development of Interactive Science Centres. It also received acclaim from professional microscopists, who praised both the clarity of the image and the depth of field obtained with the Micrarium’s microscopes.  However, Carter’s premature death in 1987, after which his widow Janet ran the Micrarium until she retired in 1995, and the eventual displacement of the apparatus used in the Micrarium by digital technology, led to the ultimate demise, not only of the Micrarium itself, but of its very idea as a museum.

Little is known about this short-lived ‘World First’ use of microscopes in a dedicated museum setting, which through the Carters bridged a gap between scientific innovation and public engagement.  Thanks to a generous grant from SIS, I was able to visit Janet Carter in Cheshire in order to interview her and other members of the family, examine the private collection of papers and other materials held by them, and go to Buxton to see the old Pump Room as well as visit the local library.

What this research revealed, was how Carter adapted the microscope and associated technologies to fit its change of purpose and location. Carter and his family also had to develop and mobilise both personal and professional networks, as well as acquire new skills, in a way that challenged the boundary between amateur and professional science. However, despite an apparently favourable social and cultural context, the Micrarium experienced difficulties as well as successes, at a time when public engagement was becoming big business, with multiple constituencies and expanding support, but also with growing competition for resources.

Turner Memorial Lecture: 25th November

Celestial Globe, by Ja'far ibn 'Umar ibn Dawlatshah al-Kirmani, Persian, 1362/3; MHS inv. 44790

Celestial Globe, by Ja'far ibn 'Umar ibn Dawlatshah al-Kirmani, Persian, 1362/3; MHS inv. 44790

4th Gerard Turner Memorial Lecture

5.30 for 6pm, Friday 25th November 2016

Professor Emilie Savage-Smith, FBA
'Of Making Celestial Globes There Seems No End

Society of Antiquaries of London
Burlington House, Piccadilly, London W1J 0BE

The lecture is free and open to the general public, no booking is required.




Annual Conference Sicily 5th–9th September 2016

Provisional Programme

The Palatin Chapel (Palermo)

The Palatin Chapel (Palermo)

Sunday, 4 September

  • Arrival and evening welcome cocktail (Vecchio Borgo Hotel)

Monday 5 September

  • Museum of Engines and Mechanisms
    (wide collection of machines and mechanisms including steam engines, aircraft engines of the First and the Second World War, automotive engines, hydraulic machines, laboratory devices and didactic models dating from the end of 19th century)
  • Department of Chemistry
    (nice small collection of chemical instruments, including 19th century chemical balances used by Stanislao Cannizzaro)
  • Psychotechnical Collection
    (important instruments of psychology and psychiatry dating back to the 1940s)
  • Archeological Museum "A. Salinas"
    (nice collection of astrolabes and sundials, usually not on display)
  • Palermo Arsenal – Maritime Museum (with historical Navy collections)

Tuesday 6 September

  • Astronomical Observatory Museum
    (18th-19th century astronomical instruments, with the famous Ramsden Circle used by Giuseppe Piazzi)
  • Palatine Chapel and Royal Palace (with beautiful Normand architectures)
  • Palermo Cathedral (with the beautiful meridian line tracked by Piazzi in 1801) Biblioteca Comunale (City Library) (with beautiful globes, usually not on display)
  • St. Dominique Church (with a perpetual calendar usually not accessible to the public) Evening: Pizza in a Museum-restaurant in the outskirts of Palermo

Wednesday 7 September

  • Institute of Physics
    (19th-20th century beautiful collection, from old instruments belonging to Domenico Scinà, to those acquired by Pietro Blaserna, later founder of Via Panisperna Institute in Rome, to some others used by the Nobel Prize Emilio Segrè who discovered "technetium" in 1937 during his stay in Palermo)
  • Museum of Mineralogy (with beautiful collections of Sicilian minerals and rocks) Botanical Garden (one of the most important in Europe)
  • Geological Museum (with rare collections of fossils)

Thursday 8 September

  • Museum of Radiology
    (one of the 10 existing in the world, collecting instruments dating back to the 1950s)
  • Museum of Physiology (recently opened)
  • Zisa – Museum of Islamic Arts (with a zodiacal disk) Crypte of the Capucines (with mummies)
  • Formal conference Dinner near the sea, in the area of Sferracavallo-Mondello

Friday 9 September

  • Benedictines' Abbey of S. Martino delle Scale (with a beautiful astronomical clock and sundials)
  • Monreale Basilique (with beautiful mosaics)

Saturday 10 September

  • Trip to Etna (optional)
    Early start by Coach to Etna then by cable car up Etna to at least 2500 metres.
    This is going to be a long and strenuous day and may not be suitable for everyone.
    Proper walking shoes and waterproof clothing are essential, the temperature is likely to be much lower as you get higher up the volcano.
    The Etna trip can only go ahead if we get at least 10 people wanting to participate otherwise the cost of transport is likely to be excessive.

Additional Notes

  • During the week we will have a coach available whenever needed. Lunch will be provided each day
  • We have reserved rooms at two hotels in the heart of Palermo 4* Politeama Hotel
  • 3* Mediterraneo Hotel

SIS AGM: July 3rd, Cambridge

The front door of the Whipple Museum, Cambridge.

The front door of the Whipple Museum, Cambridge.

The 33rd Annual General Meeting of the Scientific Instrument Society will be held at:

Sunday July 3rd, 2016


The Whipple Museum of the History of Science
Free School Lane

All members of the Scientific Instrument Society are welcome. Please come to the front entrance of the Whipple Museum and call the curator Josh Nall on 07932123416.