This past summer, my family endeavored to de-clutter our house. Sweating in my sauna of an attic, I nostalgically dusted off objects from my childhood and wondered who in their right mind would find my beloved Furby collection (stowed in the great void of my attic with good reason) worth purchasing. This past week, I was given the opportunity to explore someone else’s ‘junk:’ discarded artifacts previously housed in the basement of the University of St. Andrews Physics building. Of course, the objects used for experiments concerning electricity generation are much more awesome than Furby’s or Easy-Bake Ovens. Amy Dale is spearheading an exciting new project involving the revealing the historic functions of these objects. I was given the opportunity to check out some truly beautiful (but completely alien to me) instruments used for experiments by the physics students of St. Andrews past. Out of these, I hand picked two objects for creative writers to invent possible stories for.
Dusty (and seemingly broken) pieces, tangled wires, glorious brass tools, old electrical lamps, and more line two rows of shelves in the St. Andrews store. My imagination was sent running with theories about who used these objects, and how. Some objects were obvious: old electric lamps for example. Some objects were more elusive: how would a Physics Professor use a tool that appears to all at once tell temperature, fold envelopes, and be made of part of a goat’s leg? As I regarded these various instruments with curiosity, I found it difficult to settle upon choosing a mere two objects that were both appealing to me and mysterious.
Amy and I combed through the tools, reading what the physics department already knew about some and hypothesizing about what the purpose of others might be. Eventually, I settled on two objects I deemed to be interesting as well as aesthetically pleasing. The first is a black wrought iron instrument with a hollow rectangular base. Screw holes on each side suggest that it may be attached to a table or that this is the top of a larger instrument. One side of the base is made of glass, exposing four golden gears resembling the faces of a clock. The top piece of the object had two crossed pieces of iron with four hollowed half-spheres (one at each end of the thin stick pieces). To me, the object suggested experiments of wind but I have no basis for this claim: the object remains mysterious.
My second object was an even greater enigma. I have absolutely no idea what it could have been used for besides some kind of measurement. To be honest, I chose it mostly because of its large size and I thought it was downright beautiful. I certainly hope the creative writers enjoy inventing histories for these objects. I certainly found the process of choosing them fascinating.
Detailed images of all the objects picked by Margot and fellow guest bloggers can be found on our Flickr page.