Take a virtual tour of the Collection of Scientific Instruments

A Wimshurst machine, used for the production of low direct currents with a very high voltage. © J.F. Loude

A Wimshurst machine, used for the production of low direct currents with a very high voltage. © J.F. Loude

More than 1,000 items from the UNIL-EPFL Collection of Scientific Instruments have now been made accessible online, enabling students, researchers, and the public to explore the history of science, even in the midst of a modern pandemic.

The instruments in the digital collection date from 1775 to 1960, and were used for physics teaching and research at Lausanne’s Old Academy and at the University of Lausanne (UNIL). Thanks to the new virtual catalog, which is in French, visitors can see how these instruments were once used to measure and manipulate sound, light, pressure, and magnetism.

The original inventory was first catalogued between 2003 and 2019 by UNIL professor Jean-François Loude, who selected 224 instruments for display in the Cubotron building. In 2019, the newly founded Laboratory for the History of Science and Technology (LHST) in the College of Humanities (CDH) took over the curation of the collection.

Now, thanks to the LHST’s digitization of this unique resource, virtual visitors can safely take advantage of the historical and scientific insights it has to offer, even from a distance.

The collection’s digital counterpart was achieved by taking multiple photographs of each instrument from different angles. Each entry contains images of the instruments, plus meticulous details about their dimensions, origins, and use. The site also allows users to search for instruments, or browse by instrument category, country, or time period.

“In collaboration with Valentine Bernasconi, who has just obtained her Master of Science in Digital Humanities from EPFL, we have opted for a simple and elegant design, which highlights the beautiful photographs taken by Professor Loude over the years,” says LHST head Jérôme Baudry.

“With some simple but effective search tools, we hope that this online inventory will interest not only experts (historians, curators, collectors, etc.) but also students and the general public. This heritage collection deserves to be rediscovered.”


Author: Celia Luterbacher