A new project is creating digital reproductions of the instruments used in key chemistry experiments, in hopes of fostering appreciation for the craftsmanship involved in a new generation. The photograph above is part of the Beautiful Chemistry outreach project, a collaboration between the University of Science and Technology of China (USTC) and Tsinghua University Press. It is inspired in part by the 19th century German biologist Ernst Haeckel, whose most famous book, Art Forms in Nature, featured stunning illustrations of marine and microscopic life forms.
When the site first launched in 2014, it showcased a series of eye-popping animated videos of chemical reactions, minus such distracting elements as beakers and test tubes. Now it's back with a new design and a photographic gallery — plus short video teaser, with more to come — of 15 CG reproductions of the apparatus used in some of the most important chemistry breakthroughs from 1660 to 1860.
"In these 200 years, chemistry transformed from practical art and mysterious alchemy to a physical science with great precision," project leader Yan Liang told Gizmodo via email. "We hope people could look at this period of history from a new angle: the evolution of chemical instruments." He partnered with CG artists from IHDT.tv to create the reproductions. "We worked very hard to make sure that the instruments we recreated are scientifically accurate," he said, while still giving the artists sufficient creative freedom.
Liang holds a PhD in materials science from the University of Minnesota, but he also has a long-standing interest in art and graphic design. After a stint with Boston-based Digizyme creating science animations — including a digital textbook for the iPad (E.O. Wilson's Life on Earth) — he's now working on visualisation in the USTC's communications department.
"The beauty of science is [often] buried inside scientific publications that are never read by the general public," Liang said. "I think my science background and self-taught computer graphics skills allow me to find interesting topics and bring them to a wide audience in visual forms they are familiar with."
Check out a few more of Beautiful Chemistry's gorgeous CGI reproductions below. You can see the full gallery here.
Robert Boyle's vacuum pump (1660)
Joseph Priestley's apparatus for various air experiments (1774)
Carl W. Scheele's apparatus for preparing oxygen (1777)
Gustav Kirchhoff's spectroscope (1860)
Bonus: also check out NPR's profile of Steve Erenberg, who's been collecting antique scientific and medical instruments for 30 years.
[Via Beautiful Chemistry]
Top image: Reproduction of Antoine Lavoisier's Apparatus for Studying Fermentation, based on his book, Traité Élémentaire de Chimie (1789). All photos courtesy of Beautiful Chemistry. Used with permission.