Category Archives: Scientific Instruments

Ice Bird – the unsinkable boat

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Dr David Lewis, happy on his arrival in Cape Horn, South Africa, March 1974. From BOX 2 B 24446-2. Collection: MAAS

Dr David Lewis, happy on his arrival in Cape Horn, South Africa, March 1974. From BOX 2 B 24446-2. Collection: MAAS

Restoration of the sailing boat that made the first single handed voyage to Antarctica
Dr David Lewis was a courageous sailor, an extra-ordinary navigator and an adventurer with big dreams. He was the first navigator in modern times to cross the Pacific Ocean without using instruments, following a legendary Maori course from Tahiti to New Zealand. In 1972, David undertook another adventure to sail, alone, to Antarctica and circumnavigate the subcontinent. He bought a second hand, steel hulled boat designed by Dick Taylor. It was an 11 metre sailing boat, called Ice Bird and David and some friends hurriedly prepared it for his summer journey. The steel boat had a large amount of lead in the ballast in case the boat capsized. The trip involved sailing through the ‘Roaring Forties’, the ‘Furious Fifties’ and the ‘Screaming Sixties’. He encountered mountainous seas with 35 metre waves, constant gales, hurricanes and freezing temperatures. The boat was not built for such incredible conditions and capsized three times, twice on the way to the Palmer Antarctic Station and once on its way to Cape Town, South Africa. Continue reading

Sex and Museums: uncovering a tool of delight

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Packaging for sex toy 2008/60/1-3

Packaging for sex toy , object 2008/60/1-3

As part of the Ultimo Science Festival 2014, the Powerhouse Museum hosted a night of the Science of Sex. Along with talks form Dr Karl Kruszelnicki from University of Sydney, evolutionary biologist Professor Rob Brooks, and marine biologist Professor Emma Johnston from UNSW, Museum curators brought out a selection of sex related objects from the collection. Among them were the obstetric phantom, the birth control calculator, Madam Lash’s corset, and of course the electro massage device.

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ReCell spray-on skin kit: from pure ugliness comes a thing of healing beauty

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ReCell spray-on skin kit

ReCell spray-on skin kit

Feri walked into the packed nightclub. Drunk foreigners yelled and danced, as Western music pummelled the humid air. He headed toward the back of the nightclub and pulled a chord inside his jacket which detonated explosives strapped to his torso. His head tore instantly away from his neck, and nine people around him were torn apart. Those not killed from the blast were suddenly in a world of flame and fragment, and a suffocating need to get away if they could.
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Philosophical bubbles, alcohol content and the awesome significance of glass

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PowerhouseMuseum Collection, object H5266. Gift of R C Dixon, 1954.

Powerhouse Museum Collection, object H5266. Gift of R C Dixon, 1954.

How can you prove the alcohol content of your whisky, brandy or gin? This question has long been of interest to distillers, excise collectors, publicans and serious drinkers. This intriguing and inventive box of calibrated glass bubbles provides one answer. It is also a singular example of the significance of glass as a material of science, utility and beauty.

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Feeling the vibe with a Frahm tachometer

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Powerhouse Museum Collection, object 2013/7/6. Gift of Caltex Refineries (NSW) Pty Ltd, 2012.

Powerhouse Museum Collection, object 2013/7/6. Gift of Caltex Refineries (NSW) Pty Ltd, 2012.

This rugged hand-held precision instrument is unlike any tachometer I’ve ever seen. It’s more musical than mechanical, and it needs no power source other than the piece of machinery whose speed the user wants to check.

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Expedition to establish first Meteorological Observatory Kosciuszko, 1897

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Expedition to establish first Observatory (detail), by Charles Kerry, Kosciuzko, New South Wales, Australia, 1897, Powerhouse Museum, 85/1284-1337

Expedition to establish first Observatory (detail), by Charles Kerry, Kosciuszko  New South Wales, Australia, 1897, Powerhouse Museum, 85/1284-1337

There are numerous ways in which information is added to our collection. One of the most obvious is a result of the work done by staff to update our records but another important source of information comes as a result of the continual enquiries and suggestions from the general public.

A really good example of this occurred a few months back when I received an email from Adrian Ingleby enquiring about some photographs the Powerhouse Museum held relating to the ascent of Mount Kosciuszko to establish the first observatory there. Adrian’s interest was in a relative of his Bernard Ingleby (you can see him above, he’s the young guy on the right wearing the beanie) who accompanied Clement Wragge on this expedition. After a few discussions and an exchange of emails Adrian put me on to a wealth of amazing information about two of the photographs which were in the collection, and this post is a result of that exchange.

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You Better Watch Out – NSW Police Random Breath Testing

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NSW Police  Insignia

This time of year is one of consumable abundance in Australia. We are encouraged to indulge in large quantities of high calorie, highly processed sugar-rich foods; and to consume alcohol. Although a legal and celebrated intoxicant, alcohol is a strong mood altering drug, and consumption levels can be quite difficult to gauge. Intoxication in individuals can vary greatly, depending on weight, health, tolerance, and state of mind at the time of consumption; however, the New South Wales Police have adopted and enforce the maximum level of alcohol per 100 millilitres of blood be under .05 grams to legally operate a vehicle on a public road. Some individuals may drive a vehicle knowing that they are likely over this limit; others may have no real idea – having consumed alcohol in a socially accepted and sometimes expected manner. This may well ruin their Christmas and New Year holidays!

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Einstein’s Theory of Relativity Proven in Australia, 1922

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In late August 1922 a group of astronomers, naval men, and Aboriginal stockmen began the arduous task of unloading their complicated scientific equipment and stores from boats onto a deserted beach on the coast of Western Australia. The shallow nature of the approach meant the boats were anchored three or four miles from the high-water line and the stores, after being brought to shore, were then transported by donkey wagons to the observation site at Wollal. This was no ordinary expedition and its members knew the eyes of the world were on them waiting to see if they would be the ones to finally prove Einstein’s controversial ‘Theory of General Relativity‘.
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Guns and public opinion

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Owen Machine Gun

90/322 Machine Gun, Owen Mark 2/3, Lysaghts, Port Kembla, NSW, Australia, 1948 – Powerhouse Museum Collection

Firearms are a polarizing issue. The middle ground is a stripped no-man’s-land. The argument against prevalent gun ownership is of course more than ever legitimate. And honest gun ownership, confined to sportspeople, professional shooters and primary producers is provisional; and reasonable. Ownership outside these areas, except where the firearms have been irreversibly disabled, is criminal. One of the most fundamental reasons humans have designed and engineered firearms – for protection and self-defence – is not a legitimate reason for firearm ownership anywhere in Australia.
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