Welcome to "Observing Earth and Atom"

DTM scientist, Lloyd Berkner, inspecting multifrequency ionospheric equipment in 1937, Image No. I4466

A Visual Legacy

For over one hundred years, the Carnegie Institution’s Department of Terrestrial Magnetism (DTM) and Geophysical Laboratory  have pioneered in the development of advanced instrumentation for scientific research.  Preserved in the departments’ archives in Washington, DC is a rich visual legacy of their first fifty years:  a collection of five thousand historic photographs of instruments and apparatus used in geophysics, atomic physics, and astronomy.  Together with supporting field and laboratory documentation in the archives, these images provide an exceptional resource for the study of early 20th Century science.

Observing Earth and Atom presents some outstanding examples from the photograph collection.  In most cases, the images are all that remains of these specialized and intriguing instruments – only a few still exist in the collections of the Smithsonian Institution, National Museum of Australia, and other museums.  Work began in 2009 to preserve and enhance access to this irreplaceable archive.  With support from a grant from the Center for History of Physics, American Institute of Physics, original negatives, prints, and glass plates were rehoused in acid-free sleeves and fragile albums were transferred to protective enclosures.  A finding aid  to the collection was created and the images were catalogued in a searchable database.

Only a small fraction of the collection has been digitized to date, but work is ongoing.  Researchers interested in exploring the collection or obtaining copies of photographs are welcome to contact the archives for more information.