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Legacy on Display

You can’t really measure how much progress we’ve made in the past five decades without a potentiometer.  If you don’t have one handy, any old double pan analytical balance will do. Or, in a pinch, just pull out your trusty slide rule.

In fact, the sweep of history is amply represented by these and dozens of other scientific tools now on display in the D.H. Hill Library in an exhibit celebrating the 50th anniversary of the College of Physical and Mathematical Sciences.

It's a transit, that's what. Just the most important survey instrument ever, that's all.

The exhibit, housed in the beautiful Special Collections Gallery, includes a surprisingly well-preserved array of devices, gadgets and memorabilia – from the world’s first electric guitar (actually the first “all electric” guitar) to the spectacles that once helped NC State’s first female professor stay focused on her experimental statistics.

“Some of this stuff is historically significant,” says Steve Townsend, PAMS’ director of communications, who helped organize the exhibit. “Some is just tools of the trade.”

A team of students took on the task of sorting through a ton of papers, materials and equipment stored in boxes in Riddick and Jordan halls, he says. They were aided by archive specialist Cate Putirskis and Lisa Carter, head of the Special Collections Research Center.

Interestingly, the team turned up a number of items that predate the founding of the college in 1960. Among them is a red beanie emblazoned with the letter “F” that freshmen students were required to wear so they could be easily spotted , and humiliated, by upper classmen in the early years of the 20th century. That practice stopped, the exhibit notes, when women began attending NC State in the 1920s and refused to put up with such foolishness.

Come to think of it, maybe that spark of common sense is a better measure of progress than a radio frequency mass spectrometer.

Visit Legacy of Discovery: Celebrating 50 Years of the College of Physical and Mathematical Sciences in the D.H. Hill Library through December.

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