The Lemur project is an inter-faculty, inter-disciplinary project to develop web-based teaching resources that introduce objects from our historical collections.

The use of historical equipment in physics courses puts physical principles and applications more firmly into their social and cultural context, an aspect that is conspicuously absent in many physics courses. Scientists as a whole do not have a good reputaion for being able to relate their work to the interests of the public at large. There are notable exceptions. One of our contributions to improving the education of our science graduates is to increase their exposure to the historical context of their subject; one of our contributions to the education of arts graduates is to increase their exposure to the instruments of science. The Lemur project promises to bring the 'two cultures' noticeably closer together.

Binocular microscope

Binocular microscope and accesories by Smith, Beck and Beck ~1860

Lemur homepage
Natural Philosophy Collection

We have one of the most diverse collections of historical scientific instruments in any British University, covering 250 years of the evolution of equipment from world renowned eighteenth-century makers such as James Short and the Sissons, father and son, to computing equipment of the 1990s. We call it the Natural Philosophy Collection after the name traditionally used for Physics in Scottish Universities.

Areas of interest covered include mechanics, optics, electricity and magnetism, sound, heat, astronomy, meteorology, surveying, radiation, X-rays in medicine and crystallography, electronics, computing, properties of materials, precision instrumentation and related subjects.

The collection:

  • demonstrates many basic physical principles
  • shows how techniques of measurement and standardisation have evolved
  • gives examples of a wide range of applications of physical principles, both in specialist areas and in the public use of science
  • illustrates how equipment design is integrated into the cultural and aesthetic values of the times
  • provides many examples of changing technologies and the use of materials

    Our items cover a complete range from the simplest of demonstration models to state-of-the-art research equipment.

Astronomical clock

Astronomical clock to a design of James Ferguson FRS by Professor P. Copland and John King ~1787

    Anamorphic drawing

    Anamorphic drawing and mirror;

    T. Jones ~1810



Telegraph relay

Siemens polarised telegraph relay ~1880

The Lemur project will provide web-based pictures and historical background for some 200 instruments in our collection. Alongside this resource, teaching content will be developed that directs students to web-based coursework in which they can undertake such tasks as assessing the evolution of techniques in one area, assessing the development of design and the use of materials, assessing the change in performance and specification of equipment, and much more.

In the first instance, Lemur aims to provide scientific instrument related courseware for teaching not only in physics but in history and philosophy of science, in cultural history and in the history of art. The images and data will be freely available to all on the World Wide Web.


Page constructed by John S. Reid j.s.reid@abdn.ac.uk
Last updated 21st December 2000