Glass of Our Scientific Past
In the early stages of my group’s excavation of our unit we expected to find cultural objects from MSU’s past that had been tossed aside as garbage. The items we expected to find ranged from old construction material, to ornate ceramic, animal bone, and, of course, a plethora of broken glass. We did not, however, expect to find science lab equipment, let alone such large and identifiable pieces, and all in the same layer to boot. In the photo there are six glass artifacts shown all of which are unique and most of which were easily identifiable (except for the large center piece) thanks to my background in lab work throughout my years here at MSU. Originally I thought it to be an oil lamp, and I wasn’t too far off, considering Dr. Telewski told us it must have been an older style of Bunsen burner. We think the larger broken piece on the bottom left was the top of an Erlenmeyer flask, as the angle at which the glass extends outward and the size of the lip easily rule out drinking bottles. The last large piece, on the right, is quite obviously a test tube and was almost completely intact when removed from our excavation unit, except the very bottom which we may have among our many small glass shards waiting to be examined more thoroughly.
Last but not least are the three small pieces across the top of the photo, which include an end piece of a glass stirring rod (left), part of some uniform glass tubing that may have been part of a funnel (center), and a slightly curved piece of glass tubing with one open end and one end with a pin-sized hole (right), which we think may be an eye dropper. While individually these items give little to no context, collectively they allow us to delve deeper into the history of science on our campus and, pending dating, could be from the earliest days in Laboratory Row and some of the first lab equipment on campus, or possibly used by a well know historical figure .
The possibilities at this point are as endless as our hopes, and while the chances are very low that we will be able to prove that someone as well known as Prof. William Beal may have worked with these artifacts, it is my joy to find them and dream about what they could have been witness to. The only thing left to hope for is the rest of the Erlenmeyer flask with a name engraved on it, or part of an office door with a name still legible. I can’t wait to find out more and I hope you can’t either. In the mean time though, I’ll be searching for answers.
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