Lise Meitner Original Slide Rule
Our collection MTNR, consists of papers relating to the nuclear physicist Professor Lise Meitner (1878-1968) but also contains a number of objects – mainly medals and awards for her outstanding work. In amongst these is her original slide rule – it is this special object that I’ve selected as my favourite collection item.
In the days before computers this type of instrument would have been vital in making mathematical calculations for scientific research. It has been precisely crafted from hardwood, covered in strips of bone into which the measurement scales are inscribed. A sliding clear acrylic cover attached with steel pins is used to take the readings. It would be interesting to learn how it works.
Recently the slide rule came into the conservation studio, along with the medals, to be cleaned and repackaged. Although the actual slide rule is in good condition, its accompanying case has suffered from much wear and tear. To protect both from further damage they have been packaged in a presentation enclosure made from archival quality materials that allows the objects to be viewed without being handled. The medals were treated in much the same way and were able to be stored together in a suitable larger archival box.
It’s amazing to imagine the discoveries that may have been made from calculations using this intricate and beautifully crafted instrument. I feel very privileged to have worked on these objects and to contribute to safe-guarding their future for others to enjoy.