Case Studies: A History of Physics Innovation at the University of Toronto

2018, History, Permanent Exhibit, Science, University of Toronto Physics Department, University of Toronto Scientific Instruments Collection
artefacts, case studies, discoveries, history, innovations, physicists, physics, scientific instruments, University of Toronto
About This Project

Project Members: Erin Beaubien and Daniel Rose


Venue: McLennan Physical Laboratories, 1st floor foyer, 60 St. George Street


Exhibition Dates: April 4, 2018 – unspecified uninstall date but will be retained until the case is needed for another project.



Goal/Curatorial Statement:

In conjunction with the University of Toronto Scientific Instruments Collection and the University of Toronto Physics Department, this exhibit illustrates discoveries and/or processes developed by physicists at the University of Toronto and these innovations are supported by authentic representative artefacts from the University of Toronto Scientific Instruments Collection (UTSIC).


Intended Audience:

The exhibit is aimed at an audience of post-secondary students, faculty and visitors passing through the foyer of the McLennan Physical Laboratories at the University of Toronto.



Case Studies” is displayed in the main foyer display case of the McLennan Physical Laboratories at 60 St. George Street, a space frequented by students on their way to classes or visiting the Grad student lounge/workspace.  The primary audience includes staff and students at the University of Toronto but the content is easily understood by adults from all walks of life.



We were provided with funds by the Faculty of Information (Museum Studies) for this project and the Physics Department generously paid for new lighting installation to revitalize the old fluorescent lights as well as the reception refreshments and logistics.  The Department will benefit from updated lighting for future exhibits.  The Physics Department provided the Grad Lounge space on the first floor for the opening reception and UTSIC provided the four objects and terrestrial rock samples from the Derek York Lab for our display.  Dr. Weidenhammer provided the printing of object and text label mounts using a 3D printer and showed us the proper method for gluing, sanding, painting and assembling the mounts.


Basic Timeline:

The first stages of Case Studies began on September 26, 2017.  We anticipated having our objects selected by December 1, 2017 and the text research completed by early January, 2018, but changes made to our object selections, the design and text, held up our timeline until February, 2018.  Printing and lighting set-backs ended up being to our advantage as changing suppliers for the text panels resulted in a lower cost and a faster turn-around and the lighting was installed on a holiday weekend when the foyer was quieter.  Dr. Weidenhammer printed the object and label mounts on a 3D printer and we glued, sanded and painted the objects.  Our opening reception took place Wednesday, April 4, 2018 and included opening remarks, guest speakers and light refreshments.


Types of Presentation:

We were assigned the task of refurbishing the large display case in the foyer of the McLennan Physical Laboratories at 60 St. George Street, utilizing instruments from the UTSIC collection.  We realized it was not possible to expand our project to include other cabinets due to budgetary and time constraints.  We chose four objects for our display and each of us was responsible for researching two objects and the processes/discoveries associated with them.  We selected The Liquefaction of Helium, represented by Dewar Flasks, c.1920s-1930s; Laser-Stimulated Spectroscopy, represented by the Vertical Dewar with Flash Lamp, c. 1950s-early 1960s; The Tandem Accelerator and IsoTrace, represented by a Radial-Beam Pulse Tetrode, 1982; and Laser Step-Heating, represented by a Laser Target Vacuum Chamber, c. 1990s and samples of Potassium-Argon Dating, c. 1990s.



The Physics Department processed in-house invitations at the start of March and they were disseminated around the McLennan Physical Laboratories Building, the Bissell Building and in libraries around campus.  Museum Studies advertised the launch on the class exhibit poster, on Blackboard for the information of our fellow classmates, on Musings, the official Museum Blog, and we utilized Twitter and Facebook to advertise the opening.  A Blog has been prepared for the UTSIC website and there is an entry on the UTSIC twitter page regarding the installation.  The display case is of particular interest to people interested in history and science.


On February 22, 2018, Sheela Manek, Facilities and Special Projects Coordinator, asked if the exhibit would be left assembled as there are several upcoming Outreach events such as Science Rendezvous (May 12); Doors Open Toronto (May 26-27) and Alumni Reunion/Kid’s Passport (June 2) and she would like to include Case Studies: A History of Physics Innovation at the University of Toronto in their advertising as an exhibit available for visitors to view.  The case should remain for these events and will remain on display until the space is required for another project.




Approximately 60 people attended the reception, a creditable turnout for a small exhibition.  It is not possible to gauge the number of people who interact with the refurbished display case as it is located in an open foyer/entrance that is in constant use by students and faculty.



We would like to thank the Faculty of Information and the Physics Department for supporting this project and the University of Toronto Scientific Instruments Collection for providing the artefacts used for the exhibit.  Special thanks to Professor Morris and Dr. Weidenhammer for sharing their expertise and knowledge, for introducing us to experts on some of the more complicated topics and for the valuable advice and assistance in mounting the objects and labels.  We would also like to thank Sheela Manek, Facilities and Special Projects Coordinator for the Physics Department, for organizing the logistics of the launch/opening reception and for printing our advertising posters; Marnee, Emily and Harold from the U of T Archives for their research assistance; and the Physics Department for supplying the reception space, technical equipment and refreshments for the reception.  We are indebted to Dr. Norman Evensen and Professor Ted Litherland for speaking at the opening reception and to Professor Matthew Brower, Rebecca Noone and Camille-Mary Sharp for guiding us through this process.