Lovely Steampunk-esque Science Teaching Instruments.

Optical Pumping of Rubidium Gas

Boing Boing reader Theodore Gray (he of the gorgeous Periodic Table posters and puzzles I've blogged before) writes in to say,

Much as I hate the term steampunk, I love the style, and I notice a lot of it on boingboing, so I though you might appreciate this company, Teachspin.

I saw their booth at a trade show recently and their instruments are absolutely beautiful, exactly what you'd expect of 19th century fine machining and woodworking, except they are sophisticated modern devices like NMR machines, rubidium time oscillators, and torsion balances, and you can actually buy them. I particularly like the two earth field NMR machines, "Earth's Field Nuclear Magnetic Resonance" and "Earth's Field NMR Gradient/Field Coil System." Here's the optical pump, and the torsion oscillator (which looks much better in person that in that photo.)

Above, the Optical Pumping of Rubidium Gas device.


  1. Wow. Just wow.

    Every classroom should have these.

    (Except that they’re like several thousand bucks a piece.)

    Still, they are beautiful.

  2. That reminds me of something from James Gurney’s Dinotopia series.

    A really beautiful blend of form and function.

  3. I think we can all agree that “steampunk”ness is so very much better when it is part of the device’s function, rather than bolted on.

  4. When I was an undergraduate at VMI back around 2000, we still had quite a lot of (truly) old scientific equipment that looked nearly identical in style to the things linked above.

    I have tried to find catalogs of these kind of instruments online but have been unable to track any down. But since VMI (and many other colleges, I would imagine) no longer use such equipment I am sure there must be some repository or antique company that deals in these things. They are, face it, pretty cool.

    I would encourage anyone who is truly interested to approach a Physics department at any large University and simply ask around to see if they have some big room (probably below ground level) where they keep droves of stuff like this. I know VMI did. – You might be able to take some off their hands at a cut rate. It would be a crime not to let loving owners maintain antique equipment like this.

  5. Nice! I’m jealous of folks who get to play with those NMR instruments. I’ve only been allowed to use real ones. They look cool too but nowhere near as cool as that.

    Science definitely needs more brass and varnished wood.

  6. YES! Thank god, someone else who doesn’t like the word “steampunk”.

    Actually, to be fair, I’m not so against steampunk as I’m against the phrase “Oh, that’s -so- steampunk”. I was one of the smart kids at school and I’ve been left out of enough groups by the popular kids to recognise the signs. Steampunk isn’t a bad thing, it’s a very creative outlet that uses an interesting range of materials and design, it’s got good, bad and crazy sides though and the crazy side is the “movement” thing.

    I think the Times (of London, seriously) did the most damage to any affection I had for it. They got the worst advocate they could’ve who basically made it sound like a combination of private club and fashion craze and I just simply ended up thinking that the guy was full of himself, which is a shame because the instruments above are beautiful work.

    But “steampunk”? Nah, we need a new word again.

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