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Tour venues:

3. February to 9. June 2013
Museumsdorf Baruther Glashütte

6. August to 4. November 2012
Technische Universität Berlin

15. April to 8. Juli 2012
Universität Bonn

18. September to 11. December 2011
Bergbau - und Industriemuseum Ostbayern, Theuern

22. Januar to 25. April 2010
Industrie- und Filmmuseum Wolfen

24. October 2009 to 10. January 2010
in the Bruchsal Castle
Schlossraum 4 · 76646 Bruchsal

18. March to 27. June 2009
University in Leipzig

12. April to 30. August 2008
Friedrich-Schiller University in Jena

14. August to 20. October 2007
Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zürich

16. May to 4. August 2006
University of Karlsruhe in Karlsruhe

10. December 2005 to 19. February 2006
at the Deutsches Hygiene-Museum in Dresden





An historical foray into the chemical laboratory

The temporary Exhibition was designed as a travelling Exhibition. With eight thematic displays the exhibition explores the tradition of chemical research and the development of the chemical laboratory. It begins with the medieval fire assaying and ends with the contemporary Theory Laboratory. The thematic displays symbolize milestones on the development of scientific practice.

Practice Laboratory
On crucibles, assay (absorption) vessels, porringers and separation flasks
This section is dedicated to the medieval fire assaying and iron and steel workers. According to the famous saying, “the proof of the pudding is in the eating”, fire assaying emerged as a regular part of chemical practice: Miniature samples with low production costs as preparation for the technical large-scale production. Typical work tools included crucibles used for melting ores and metals, assay (absorption) vessels and porringers for the extraction of precious metals from lead (known as ore processing) as well as separation flasks used for separating gold and silver. Fire assaying is considered to be the earliest form of today’s laboratory work.

On phials, alembics, “Mohrenkopf” and distillation kilns
Extraction methods were tested in practical herbal lore as well. The objective was to optimise processes for the extraction of medically useful substances from plants and animals. For this purpose the devices used were identical to the ones used in the technical production: Phials, small distillation (“Florentine”) flasks also used to store volatile ingredients, alembics and kilns (“Galeerenöfen”) for the distillation of liquids with different boiling points. The Medieval production sites are the primal cells of the chemical laboratory.

Thinking Laboratory
Alchemy on parchment with inkpot and goose quill
As far back as the early Middle Ages a differentiation in laboratory work took place. The alchemists split up into practitioners and theorists. The theorists among the alchemists distanced themselves increasingly from the chemical trade and from the practicing and producing alchemists. The laboratory as a place of practical work became the study space of the theorist alchemists. This working space was not characterized by retorts, phials and assay porringers anymore. Their working tools were parchment, paper and goose quill.

Assay laboratory
On transmuters of gold and inventors of porcelain
Opposing to the last section, this section demonstrates the laboratory of gold transmuter alchemists. Besides the mentioned writing utensils, the practicing adept’s laboratory resembled a shrouded in mystery alchemist’s kitchen, arranged in a basement with open fire places, soothed walls and cross-barred windows. This section reminds us that gold transmuters were often held against their will at court and that their assaying kitchen rather resembled a prison. 

Science Laboratory
From phlogiston to oxygen
Until the 19th century the occupation of a chemistry laboratory assistant did not exist. Practitioners in the chemical industry and hobby chemists with various academic careers, mostly physicians, pharmacists, mathematicians, theologians and jurists, conducted their experiments in ill-equipped working spaces. Over time they developed new working appliances and methods, and Experimenting became the hobby of different social classes. The obtained knowledge was published in detail by informative encyclopaedists such as Diderot’s “Encyclopedia, or a systematic dictionary of the sciences, arts, and crafts”, which was published 1762 – 1777 as the first collected edition.

Research Laboratory
From experiment to economic use
Since the beginning of the 19th century laboratory experiment replaced medieval fire assaying as a “cognitive method of modern science”. The laboratory gained through industrial use a new economic meaning. It is therefore not surprising that Justus Liebig (1803-1873), “the father of modern chemistry”, was not only a researcher but a business man as well. The background of this section shows his laboratory in Munich.

Research Laboratory

From economic use to experiment
In the course of the increasing division of labour in the chemical production, the plant laboratory gained independence as a part of industrial engineering in the 19th century. Chemical sites became clusters of researching chemists. This section gives insight into the new working environment at the turn of the 20th century: The origin of the chemical laboratory as we know it, with glass tools, including the Bunsen burner and the test tube. A wide sample collection of work appliances dating back to circa 1900 helps the visitor remember the resourcefulness and technical skills of that time. 

Theory Laboratory
Mathematical simulation, followed by experimental verification

The changing of the traditional laboratory led to the development of the “thinking laboratory”, which continues to serve as a place for process engineering for experimental chemical laboratory work. Today, the almost deserted research laboratory, designed for formalised process sequences, stands in diametric opposition to the thinking laboratory, in which computers simulating experiments have replaced traditional laboratory equipment. A video demonstrates the monotony of robot work. Visitors can create their own virtual chemical fantasies using a computer.