Photo of the Week: Science stuff

[Demonstrating a geiger counter.], ca. 1950, v1991.11.13.1; Harry Kalmus papers and photographs, ARC.046; Brooklyn Historical Society.

[Demonstrating a geiger counter.], ca. 1950, v1991.11.13.1; Harry Kalmus papers and photographs, ARC.046; Brooklyn Historical Society.

Over the weekend, I went to the Maker Faire on the grounds of the New York Hall of Science in Corona, Queens.  I was overwhelmed by the many booths manned by techy scientists, but also pleasantly reminded of the experimenting and discovering I experienced in science classes in junior high and high school.  My discoveries are rarely scientific these days, yet the connections between the science world and the art and history world exist even if I (or people in general) take those connections for granted or downright ignore them.

Case in point, this photograph was taken by one of Brooklyn Historical Society’s favorite photographers, Harry Kalmus, who we know best for his black and white and color photographs of bar mitzvahs and weddings.   He captured this scene in a science lab. His subjects, three scientists, are demonstrating a Geiger counter.  If you look closely, you’ll see the laterally reversed words “Kodak – Safety” on the right side of the photograph.  Photography illustrates beautifully the connections between science and art. The act of photography and the products of those artistic or documentary intentions cannot be separated from the chemically processes on which they depend.  Cellulose nitrate film was the first flexible film and the foundation on which all commercial motion picture films were made.  However, safety film was developed as early as 1908 in 16mm and 8mm for home movies. By 1952 it entirely replaced cellulose nitrate film, a volatile format that became a fire hazard when stored in large quantities.  Safety film’s is made of acetate, a more stable material, and while it experiences degradation of shrinking, melting, and fading, it does not burn.  If you want to know more about different film types, Kodak’s website is a great and extensive resource.

Incidentally, the Geiger counter is a tool to measure amounts of ambient radiation.  The apparatus was developed in 1908 by Hans Geiger and the technique was improved with the addition of Walther Müller’s tube in 1928 that could detect different types of radiation.

Interested in seeing more photos from BHS’s collection? Visit our online image gallery, which includes a selection of our images. Interested in seeing even more historic Brooklyn images? Visit our new website here.  To search BHS’s entire collection of images, archives, maps, and special collections visit BHS’s Othmer Library Wed-Fri, 1:00-5:00 p.m.

About Julie May

I am the Director of Library & Archives at Brooklyn Historical Society.
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