In the Classroom and Beyond
The instruments were used in the classroom primarily to demonstrate basic principles behind several subject areas including heat, optics, acoustics, pneumatics, hydraulics, and the pre-eminent 19th century scientific discovery, current electricity. However, the instruments were used beyond the classroom as well. Each year, Santa Clara College invited the public to attend commencement exercises that included entertainment beyond the conferring of degrees. As part of the scientific entertainment, students gave public demonstrations and lectures on such subjects as “Electricity at Work,” “Mechanical Forces and Perpetual Motion,” “Hydraulics,” and the “Nature of Sound and the Principles of Musical Instruments.”
“The Santa Clara College Scientific Instrument Collection is truly a cherished collection for our institution,” McMahon says. “It informs us about our academic history and gives us an opportunity to appreciate our early administrators’ commitment to scientific inquiry in the classroom.”
In fact, back in the 1960s, some of the instruments were recognized to have such historical significance that they were acquired by the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of American History. McMahon calls this “a telling point about Santa Clara’s contribution to the history of science.” She has been in contact with the Smithsonian’s Steve Turner, who has helped in compiling research materials about the SCU collection.