Fashionable Science

Look at this magnificent Air Pump, attributed to the famous Abbé Nollet, and built around 1745 – presented in the Harvard Museum of Scientific Instruments:

Doesn’t it look familiar to you? Well, maybe not in fact, you might have designed your flat with contemporary furniture, or with cheap Swedish stuff, it’s totally your right. But if you’re a man of good taste, and if you’re lucky enough to get into possession of those cute and expensive things, your desk might be handsomely painted with flowers and leaves, and the chair behind it might have nice curved legs, and the thin and elegant dresser on the side might be gently decorated with bronze ornaments (well, if it’s surely not your office, let’s says it can be the living-room of your PhD Advisor…).

In that case, you are acquainted with the Louis XV style, the most prevailing furniture style in France around 1750, at the very time this air pump was manufactured. The point is that even a scientific instrument cannot get rid of the taste of the time – as pure as reason is and as reliable as the result of an experiment can be. Long time after the French Revolution, we do not built chairs and desks that way anymore, but we can still enjoy Louis XV style in our living-rooms, or in our museums. There are revolutions in science as well, and this air pump would not be of great use in contemporary science, but it is our duty to keep the memory of such objects alive.

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