Aspiring to Precision is an exhibition about the 19th century measurement revolution in science – and its continuing relevance today. In this exhibition about an important period in the history of science we want to show that scientific knowledge differs from ordinary opinions or "alternative facts". The path to scientific knowledge is often long, laborious and requires great accuracy.
We also want to showcase part of our extensive collection of beautiful scientific instruments from this period, a collection that embodies Uppsala’s long tradition as a centre for instrument making.
By focusing on the techniques and apparatus of precision measurement, Swedish researchers of the second half of the 19th century became world leaders in several disciplines including chemistry, earth science and astronomy. They made a conscious choice to engage with the emerging international measurement projects, and gave rise to a new golden age for the natural sciences at Uppsala University.
The exhibition tells of a time when the natural sciences were undergoing radical change. Chemistry, for example, was at the beginning of the 19th century a kind of “household science”, where the experiments were carried out at home and the whole family joined in. By the end of the century the laboratory had moved to the University and become filled with expensive, specialised equipment. Science became professionalised – but it was very difficult for women to participate in this process as they were barred from academic university positions until 1923. In the exhibition we present Anna Sundström, who for many years worked alongside Jacob Berzelius in his laboratory. When Berzelius no longer needed his “housekeeper”, there was no place for her in science.
Techniques and methods of measurement still occupy a central place in science today. In chemistry, modern scientists measure processes at the molecular level. In physics, measurements span the entire scale of the physical Universe, from unimaginably small particles that exist for the briefest of time intervals to huge events far away in space and far back in time.