domingo, 31 de agosto de 2014

Old Cabinet of Physics of the University of Coimbra

The microscope sent from London by Jacob Castro Sarmento FTS, one of the masterpieces of the Cabinet collection

The Old Cabinet of Physics of the University of Coimbra (also known as Physics Museum, part of the Museum of Science of the University) is located at the city academic center  at the Colégio de Jesus, one of the oldest Jesuit colleges in the world (it was founded in 1542). The building has been adapted by the Marquis of  Pombal, who expelled the Jesuits, ca. 1772 to serve the purpose of transmitting Natural Philosophy, in particular Newtonian science. At that time with the University Reform the Faculties of Philosophy and Mathematics were created. The Cabinet houses an unrivalled collection of scientific and didactic instruments from the 18th and 19th centuries. This heritage consists exclusively of instruments used in the Physics Cabinet of the University of Coimbra since its very origin in 1772. It is today one of the most complete Cabinets for the experimental study of Physics which is on public display. Thanks to its unique characteristics, this collection of instruments is among the most notable and rare in the world. The instruments from the 18th century are considered by experts true art pieces, having been shown in Brussels (Europalia exhibition), Lisbon (Gulbenkian Foundation)  and S. Paulo, Brazil. The designers and constructors are among the best in the world, in particular owners and artists of London workshops (George Adams, Benjamin Martin, John Dollond, Edward Nairne, Edmond Culpeper, etc.). The book of the Dutch Musschenbroek  Introductio ad philosophiam naturalem had been the guide for selecting and constructing the instruments that equipped the Cabinet. In its turn, the instruments from the 19th century, in turn, are well representative of the evolution of Experimental Physics along that century (some of the constructors were Breguet, Bianchi, Koenig, Ruhmkorff, Ernecke, Muller-Unkel, Geissler, Siemens & Halske, etc.). The collection is well representative of the evolution of experimental physics in the 18th and 19th centuries and is certainly worth a visit by anyone interested in science. A lecture hall from the 18th century may also be visited. Nearby there is the Laboratorio Chimico, Chemical Laboratory, from the same period, which is probably the first building all over the world which was constructed for Chemistry studies.

Some of the instruments of the rich collection are publicly exhibited in two large rooms, which keep the original atmosphere of the Physics Cabinet, even with the original shelves, table and chairs. Indeed, One of the rooms is a true recreation of a Physics Cabinet of the second half of 18th century, where a professor of Physics Giovanni Dalla Bella (1730-1823) was teaching (he was called by the Marquis of Pombal from Padova, Italy, where he teached, together with other science professors). In the other room, instruments from the 18th century, mainly from the first quarter, complete the exhibition. The thematic areas of the instruments are mainly Newtonian mechanics; mechanics of the continua media, thermodynamics, optics and electromagnetism.

A virtual visit to the Cabinet may be done here:

Some instruments are displayed here:
See, e.g.,

The University of Coimbra is since June 2013 a site of the UNESCO World Heritage ( ).  Its Science Museum ( ), has received some international awards licke the Micheletti Prize for the best new science and technology museum in Europe.

To know more see D. Martins and C. Fiolhais, “A place of pilmigrage” in Europhysics News (2003) vol. 34, n. 4, p. 154.

Carlos Fiolhais and Décio Martins

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