Book:The Laboratories of Our Lives: Labs, Labs Everywhere!/Laboratories: A historical perspective/Eighteenth- and nineteenth-century laboratories

From LIMSWiki
Jump to navigationJump to search
-----Return to the beginning of this guide-----

1.3 Eighteenth- and nineteenth-century laboratories

Friedrich Strohmeyer played an important role in chemical and mineralogical analysis; he was also one of the first professors to promote and enact hands-on chemical analysis for students in a laboratory setting.

The eighteenth century saw the "embryonic" laboratories develop further, but in truth in wasn't until the nineteenth century that the age of the laboratory in academic, hospital, and—particularly in the latter half of the century[1][2][3][4]—physician settings began to bloom. Some historians have described the changes that took place during these centuries as a transition from natural philosophy—sometimes referred to as "experimental philosophy"—and its "philosophical instruments" to natural or empirical science (or "physics," but not in the modern sense[5]) and the laboratory instruments used to better analyze and describe the physical and life sciences.[5][6][7]

Even by the late eighteenth century, the laboratory was still viewed as a "workshop," a place for material (chemicals, colored glass, etc.) production.[8] However, instances of scientists beginning to view laboratory teaching and hands-on analysis as vital slowly began to spring forth. For example, the laboratory teaching of practical or "physical chemistry"—separating itself even further by several decades from alchemical study—first took place in St. Petersburg, Russia in 1751 under the professorship of Mikhail Lomonosov. Two years prior he had built for him a small 15 x 9 meter brick structure where he developed colored glasses for mosaics, but he quickly turned his focus towards using the laboratory to teach students in physical chemistry, "a science which must explain by means of physical laws and experiments the cause of changes produced by chemical operations in composite bodies."[9] Three years later in Berlin, the Prussian Academy of Sciences' academic laboratory was founded with materials from a previously associated artisanal lab, signaling a shift "from commercial production to systematic observation and experimental exploration of the properties and chemical transformations of material substances."[7]

Speaking of German kingdoms, universities and associated laboratories in the region continued to build a renowned reputation on into the early and mid-nineteenth century.[8][10] In 1806, Friedrich Stromeyer, fresh from being named "extraordinary professor" after the death of Johann Friedrich Gmelin, took over as director of University of Göttingen's chemical laboratory. Stromeyer's strong opinion that students could only learn chemistry best through practice and self-analysis led to a subtle but significant change: the development of one of the first university laboratories in Germany to offer students hands-on chemical analysis.[11][12] Following a similar path, Czech physiologist Johannes Evangelista Purkinje, upon being appointed a professor at the University of Breslau (then a part of Germany), set up a private physiology laboratory in 1824 within his own house and taught students from it. Impressed by his work, the government eventually helped Purkinje set up the world's first professional physiology laboratory in 1842, known as the Physiological Institute.[13][10] And in 1826, at the University of Giessen, influential chemist Justus Liebig began perhaps not the first but definitely one of the more influential teaching and analysis laboratories, his work influencing the future direction of German as well as international universities and institutes.[14][12] That carried over to Wilhelm Weber's physics lab at Göttingen University (1833), Franz Neumann's physics lab in Königsberg (1847), Robert Bunsen's chemical teaching and research laboratory in Heidelberg (c. 1850), and Johann N. Czermak's spectatorium for physiology teaching in Leipzig (c. 1870).[8]

By the late eighteenth century, other countries marveled at the laboratories of the German-speaking countries.[8][10] Industrial labs began to pop up around the world, including the United States, with researchers "interested in getting patents recognized so as to have commercial control of the processes and products involved in their research."[8] Even physician laboratories began to take shape at the turn of the century as instruments such as centrifuges, microscopes, and microtomes became slightly easier to acquire.[4][15] The role-based division of responsibilities within laboratories was also becoming entrenched into labs by the end of the century.[8][10]


  1. Welch, William Henry (1920). "The Evolution of Modern Scientific Laboratories". Papers and Addresses by William Henry Welch. 3. The Johns Hopkins Press. pp. 200–211. 
  2. Simon, Charles E. (9 May 1896). "The Importance of Laboratory Methods in Diagnosis". Maryland Medical Journal 35 (4): 55–57. 
  3. Shoemaker, John V. (ed.) (November 1884). "Chemical Department at Jefferson Medical College". The Medical Bulletin: A Monthly Journal of Medicine and Surgery 6 (11): 277–278. Retrieved 28 June 2017. 
  4. 4.0 4.1 Elliott, L. B. (March 1898). "Editorial". Journal of Applied Microscopy 1 (3): 57–58. Retrieved 28 June 2017. 
  5. 5.0 5.1 Buchwald, J.Z.; Hong, S. (2003). "Chapter 6: Physics". In Cahan, D.. From Natural Philosophy to the Sciences: Writing the History of Nineteenth-Century Science. University of Chicago Press. pp. 163–195. ISBN 9780226089287. 
  6. Zuidervaart, H.J. (2013). "Cabinets for Experimental Philosophy in the Netherlands". In Bennett, J.; Talas, S.. Cabinets of Experimental Philosophy in Eighteenth-Century Europe. Brill. pp. 1–26. ISBN 9789004252974. 
  7. 7.0 7.1 Klein, U. (2008). "The Laboratory Challenge: Some Revisions of the Standard View of Early Modern Experimentation". Isis 99 (4): 769-782. doi:10.1086/595771. 
  8. 8.0 8.1 8.2 8.3 8.4 8.5 Schmidgen, H. (8 August 2011). "The Laboratory". European History Online (EGO). Institute of European History. Retrieved 28 June 2022. 
  9. Menschutkin, B.N. (1927). "A Russian physical chemist of the eighteenth century". Journal of Chemical Education 4 (9): 1079–1087. doi:10.1021/ed004p1079. 
  10. 10.0 10.1 10.2 10.3 "The Laboratory in Modern Science". Mechanics (David Williams) 5 (120): 290. 19 April 1884. 
  11. Lockemann, G.; Oesper, R.E. (1953). "Friedrich Stromeyer and the history of chemical laboratory instruction". Journal of Chemical Education 30 (4): 202–204. doi:10.1021/ed030p202. 
  12. 12.0 12.1 Ihde, A.J. (1984). "Chapter 10: The Diffusion of Chemical Knowledge". The Development of Modern Chemistry. Dover Publications. pp. 259–276. ISBN 0486642356. 
  13. Garrison, F.H. (1921). "XI: The Nineteenth Century: The Beginnings of Organized Advancement of Science". An Introduction to the History of Medicine (3rd ed.). W.B. Saunders Company. pp. 486–488. 
  14. Holmes, F.L.. "The Complementarity of Teaching and Research in Liebig's Laboratory". Osiris 5: 121-164. 
  15. Bartley, Elias H. (1899). Manual of Clinical Chemistry. P. Blakiston's Son & Co. p. 53. Retrieved 28 June 2022.