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Taking Measure

Just a Standard Blog

Unidentified Museum Objects, Vol. II

geared mechanism with an electric plug. Attached to the plug's wire is a tag that reads "231." The device is geared to another smaller gear on a device with what looks like a flywheel coming from the front of it.

Mystery item 0325

Credit: NIST Museum

In Unidentified Museum Objects I, we asked for help identifying some mysterious whatchamacallits in the collection of our very own NIST museum ... and you enthusiastically responded. The Twitterverse helped us close the case on item 0266, and NIST staff sent in a number of leads on some of the other gizmos.

Read on for some theories on that last round of objects and to see photos of even more unidentified doohickeys.

Three theories and one answer

Item 0305

a metallic disk with a pair of metal tubes coiled on one side, a ceramic tube is on the other side
Item 0305
Credit: NIST Museum

Tobias Huber, JQI postdoc:“Looks like the heart of a liquid flow cryostat, perhaps an early prototype. The whole device would need to sit in vacuum for thermal insulation. The brass (copper?) disk could be a heat exchanger, where liquid helium is pumped through the piping...”

Adam Creuziger, materials research engineer, NIST Center for Automotive Lightweighting: “Looks similar to many induction coils for heating.”

Item 0325

geared mechanism with an electric plug. Attached to the plug's wire is a tag that reads "231." The device is geared to another smaller gear on a device with what looks like a flywheel coming from the front of it.
Item 0325
Credit: NIST Museum

Ricky Sprow, mechanical engineer, NIST Center for Neutron Research (NCNR): “Possibly a device for remote valve operation or pressure control. Or, a revolving sample chamber.”

Item 0266

tripod device with lens. The words "Carl Zeiss, Jena, Nr. 400" appear on a cylinder that extends below the tripod's platform. Below that is a graduated dial, presumably for raising and lowering the platform.
Item 0266
Credit: NIST Museum

We received some theories on what this could be, but the definitive answer came from the manufacturer of the device via Twitter.

More unsolved mysteries!

Three new (old) unidentified museum objects are pictured below. Any ideas as to what they could be?

metal cylinder with a coiled copper wire
Item 0306: A mini Einstein-Rosen bridge device? Made up of a metal cylinder with a coiled copper wire.
Credit: NIST Museum
A purple crystal cylinder, pointed at the ends
Item 0497:  A primitive glow stick, perhaps Superman is missing a memory crystal from his Fortress of Solitude?
Credit: NIST Museum
Museum item 0539
Item 0539: A prototype tricorder? Or a steampunk Walkman?
Credit: F. Webber/NIST

If you’ve got any inkling of what one of these thingamabobs might be, leave us a comment!

Edited April 17, 2018, to update featured photo and enlarge story photos

About the author

Fran Webber

Now at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Fran Webber was, among other things, a writer at NIST. A (more) youthful Fran dreamed of becoming a marine biologist. She’s not really sure what went wrong, but at least now she works with marine biologists, which is close, right? 

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