The Émile Zola high school in Rennes (Brittany Region, France) keeps a vast collection of teaching materials in one of its former chemistry labs. These objects enabled a move from theory to practical exercises and experiments. Their aesthetic quality and their manufacturing technique marked a turning point in the history of science and education.
Educational collections are a valuable asset to the history of science. Many manufacturers also supplied equipment to laboratories and were pioneers in the development of new techniques. They were constantly inventing, improving, and experimenting. Their innovations were a real turning point in the history of teaching science.
Abbé Nollet's double cone (1750/1850) by unknownRégion Bretagne
In the mid 18th century, Father Jean Antoine Nollet (1700-1770) developed experimental physics. His lessons, incorporating the seriousness of science and the fun of experimentation, became subject to the immense craze of "spectacular science" shows. They supplied the first physics cabinets of the time.
"To make the invisible, visible": the double cone is one of the many demonstrative instruments of his invention, rolling "up" an inclined plane. This "paradoxical" movement showed the existence of gravity. As the object appears to go upward, its center of gravity moves down.
Laplace and Lavoisier's ice calorimeter (1777/1800) by unknownRégion Bretagne
The father of modern chemistry, Antoine Laurent de Lavoisier (1743-1794) had a laboratory with almost 13,000 instruments and devices that had mostly been created in collaboration with manufacturers: thermometers, barometers, areometers, hour glasses, crucibles, rulers, vacuum pumps, burning mirrors, and balances, to name but a few. Many of his instruments had been manufactured specifically for his research and experiments, mainly in calorimetry.
In 1777, he stated that both respiration and combustion required air. Based on this correlation, Lavoisier stated the hypothesis that respiration was a kind of slow combustion. To prove this, he worked with mathematician Pierre Simon Laplace to create a calorimeter.
Inside of Laplace and Lavoisier's ice calorimeter (1777/1800) by unknownRégion Bretagne
In an inner chamber, he placed a live guinea pig and then an ignited piece of coal for comparison, and surrounded each of them with different layers of ice. The heat emitted was therefore measured by weighing the melted ice. In this way, Lavoisier was able to compare the heat emitted by respiration and combustion within the same quantity of carbon dioxide.
Saussure hair hygrometer (c. 1835) by Nicolas Constant PixiiRégion Bretagne
In around 1815, Nicolas Constant Pixii (1776–1861) took over a family business that manufactured precision instruments. He formed the company "Pixii, père et fils" with his son, Antoine-Hyppolite, who made an important contribution to the field of electric machines by inventing the first electromagnetic generator. "Pixii, père et fils" put their talent to the service of a number of scientists, both in France and abroad, and provided schools with equipment.
Signature of Pixii (c. 1835) by Nicolas Constant PixiiRégion Bretagne
Nicolas Constant Pixii was one of the first manufacturers to be recommended by state education on the list of equipment to be acquired. In 1821, the price for Saussure's hair tension hygrometer and its transportation box was around 100 francs.
Exploded skull (1850/1900) by TramondRégion Bretagne
Founded during the second half of the 19th century, Maison Tramond specialized in wax modeling. It set up near the anatomy theater at the Paris Faculty of Medicine so that it could easily produce anatomical models and osteological pieces. It then diversified production by providing preserved specimens and skeletons. It also supplied numerous artificial and osteological preparations to other institutions in France and abroad.
This skull shows burst cranial bones. The different elements are protected by a layer of wax and mounted on adjustable metal rods.
Signature of Tramond (1850/1900) by TramondRégion Bretagne
The skull bears the Tramond signature in Indian ink.
Clastic anatomical model of the human body (1875/1925) by Établissements du Docteur AuzouxRégion Bretagne
In 1816, Louis Auzoux (1797-1880) began studying medicine and encountered the challenge of dissection. In pursuit of a substitute for the human body for anatomy lessons, he developed papier maché anatomical models that could be dismantled layer by layer—known as clastic models. By using molds, they could also be mass produced.
The doctor Auzoux models were light, solid, remarkably accurate, and covered a wide variety of topics: models of plants, animals, human or skinned organs. Doctor Auzoux's establishments were internationally renowned and supplied models to many institutions.
Small model of upright microscope (c. 1895) by Nachet et filsRégion Bretagne
The first microscopes were produced in the 16th century, at the same time as the first astronomical telescopes, from two convex lenses in a set of sliding tubes. The search for the infinitely small grew from the 17th century onward, gradually leading to the establishment of microbiology. Camille Sébastien Nachet (1799–1881), an engineer-optician specializing in the manufacture of microscopes, produced this "small straight model" in the 1870s. The quality of the lenses earned him a prize at the Great Exhibition in 1851.
Signature of Nachet and son (c. 1895) by Nachet et filsRégion Bretagne
Upon his death, his son Jean Alfred succeeded him and changed the signature on the microscopes to read "Nachet and Son".
Signature of J. Duboscq (c. 1880) by Jules DuboscqRégion Bretagne
In 1849, Jules Duboscq (1817-1886) took over from his stepfather Jean-Baptiste François Soleil and became one of the greatest manufacturer-engineer-opticians of his time. He designed very high-quality instruments with high educational value for universities, high schools, theaters, and individuals.
Duboscq collaborated with many of the great names in science: Arago, Fresnel, Régnault, Foucault, Delezenne, and Babinet, to name but a few.
Babinet goniometer (c. 1880) by Jules DuboscqRégion Bretagne
In 1839, Jacques Babinet developed a goniometer capable of measuring angles of deflection of a light ray through a prism, placed in the center of a circular platform covered with a flat mirror.
The Maison Duboscq also published a number of catalogs deemed by the French Physics Society to be important textbooks of practical physics. In the 1870 catalog, the goniometer was listed for 200 francs.
Set of tuning forks for studying vowel sounds (1858/1901) by Rudolph KoenigRégion Bretagne
The physicist Rudolph Koenig (1831–1901) dominated acoustic physics in the second half of the 19th century. He invented, manufactured, and marketed a number of precision instruments and published several instrument catalogs in which he describes in detail how to operate the devices and the experiments associated with them. This set contains five tuning forks for the characteristic notes of the vowels a, e, i, o, ou.
On each tuning fork, the corresponding letter and Koenig's initials are engraved to prevent his inventions being counterfeited.
Conception & writing: Justine Malpeli, Région Bretagne
Photographs: Délia-Gaulin-Crespel, Région Bretagne
Under the responsibility of Elisabeth Loir-Mongazon, Head of Service for the Inventory of Cultural Heritage (Service de l'Inventaire du patrimoine culturel), Région Bretagne
Acknowledgments: Jean-Noël Cloarec, Bertrand Wolff and the members of Amélycor, the association for the History of the High School an College of Rennes
© Région Bretagne, Service de l'Inventaire du patrimoine culturel.
The Brittany region (région Bretagne) is in charge of equipping and operating breton public high schools. It is also responsible for the inventory of cultural heritage.