Category Archives: CAP Congress 2013

Do you recognize this antique scientific instrument?

Do you know what this is? Click on image for larger version. (Courtesy: Jean Barrette)

Do you know what this is? Click on image for larger version. (Courtesy: Jean Barrette)

By Hamish Johnston

Last week I promised readers a genuine mystery – and here it is. Do you know what this piece of apparatus was used for?

It currently resides in the McPherson Collection of physics instruments at McGill University in Montreal and its purpose has long puzzled curator Jean Barrette – who I spoke to when I was in Canada recently.

The device looks like it is designed for bench-top use and Barrette believes that it was used to study gases. Inside the cylindrical section with the half-moon window there is another small cylindrical part that can move. The small cylindrical extension to the right of the main component is an electrode input to bring high voltage inside the chamber.

“Any idea on the purpose of the instrument would be greatly appreciated,” said Barrette.

There must be a physicsworld.com reader out there who knows what this is. Please let Jean and I know by leaving a comment below.

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Condensed-matter cosmology and spin wires

Waterloo, here I come (Courtesy: IQC)

Waterloo, here I come. (Courtesy: IQC)

By Hamish Johnston at the 2013 CAP Congress in Montreal

Yesterday morning I was back at the University of Montreal for more physics at the Canadian Association of Physicists Congress. I started off the morning with a bit of quantum cosmology and quantum gravity with a distinct hint of condensed-matter physics.

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The race to find the electric dipole moment

The University of Montreal actually has an ivory tower!

Congress HQ: the University of Montreal actually has an ivory tower!

By Hamish Johnston at the 2013 CAP Congress in Montreal

Yesterday I had lunch with Jeff Martin of the University of Winnipeg, who is a member of an international team that aims to measure the electric dipole moment (EDM) of the neutron at TRIUMF in Vancouver.

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What happened to nuclear electrons?

By Hamish Johnston at the 2013 CAP Congress in Montreal

Sometimes I think that physicists can dwell too much in the past. Scientific papers, for example, often begin with a potted history of the field and it’s only in the second page that something new is mentioned.

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The first medical X-ray…

By Hamish Johnston at the 2013 CAP Congress in Montreal

Jean Barrette has one of the best jobs in the world as far as I am concerned. The retired nuclear physicist is curator of the McPherson Collection of physics instruments at McGill University here in Montreal.

jean-barrette-200px

Jean Barrette has a great job.

This morning in the “History of Physics” session at the Canadian Association of Physicists (CAP) Congress, Jean gave a talk that featured many of the beautiful experiments – lots of brass and polished hardwood – in the collection.

The collection was made possible by the Canadian physicist Anna McPherson, who left a sizeable sum to the university when she died in 1979.

One of the highlights of the talk was what is surely the first-ever medical X-ray, which was taken in 1896 just six months after X-rays were first discovered. Taken at McGill, it shows a bullet lodged in the leg of a shooting victim.

During his talk, Jean asked for help in identifying a mysterious piece of apparatus in the collection that so far he had not been able to identify. Jean is going to send me a picture and I’ll post it in an upcoming blog entry.

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