From the Cabinet of Physics: A Vocabulary in Iron

A family of fascinating mechanisms appears in today's double-barreled video from the Cabinet of Physics. Each illustrates a clever method of transforming rotational motion in direction or speed.

Some students of Tuscany would become technicians who operated, maintained, and repaired the machinery of the Industrial Age. Others would become engineers who might design factory equipment, steamships, drawbridges, or locomotives. They observed these "kinematic models" to become familiar with the many mechanisms—some common, some exotic—in use within contemporary machines. In a sense, they were learning a kind of iron vocabulary. A designer could reach into this collection of ingenious mechanisms for a solution to a problem. Or, having studied such a great variety of mechanisms, an inventor might have the insight necessary to devise a new one, adding a new "word" to the language of machinery.

In the first video, my favorite is the pair of quadrilateral gears appearing at 1 minute 22 seconds. A square gear! And a cloverleaf!

A student of astronomy, viewing the elliptical gears at 1 minute 4 seconds, may be reminded of the planetary orbits Johannes Kepler described, moving around the Sun slowly, then quickly, then slowly, then quickly again, in a mesmerizing fashion.

In the second video, I particularly admire the mangle wheel seen at 1 minute 55 seconds. It's an ingenious way to reverse the direction of a wheel on each cycle.

I have remarked before that we often see curators in these Fondazione demonstrations turning handles. Today is another abundant example. The Cabinet of Physics seems to contain more cranks than a convention of the Flat Earth Society…

The Foundation for Science and Technics, or Fondazione Scienza e Tecnica, of Florence, Italy, has made available many videos exploring the Cabinet of Physics, a large collection of antique scientific demonstration instruments.  The Foundation's homepage may be found here, and its Youtube channel, florencefst, here.

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