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NIST Needs Help Solving Science Mystery

Metal Instrument in Wood Case

The National Institute of Standards and Technology is mystified. Most of its collection of scientifically significant instruments are identified and cataloged, but a mysterious brass crank metal concoction in a wood case has NIST scratching its head.

Simply labeled Metal Instrument in Wood Case, the mysterious crank is one of many items NIST wants to identify or further elaborate on. In its quest for more information, the institute is asking the public to help.

“We have some artifacts in our collection we want to identify, so we thought we could exhibit them online and ask for help,” NIST Digital Services Librarian Regina Avila said. “It was fun to photograph them, but challenging. Some artifacts were broken, others had missing pieces. Some were heavy and others were fragile.”

The artifacts in question are part of a collection of innovative historical scientific devices NIST houses at its Gaithersburg, Md., museum. Alongside the unknown wood box sits items such as the Project Tinkertoy Wafer Tube Amplifier, a 45 rpm record player designed using standardized components, and the saccharimeter, a machine that measured sugar purity.

NIST placed 137 artifacts on its website, with many more to come, in the hopes that science history buffs may hold the keys that allude them. The NIST Digital Archives showcases instruments and publications. Anyone with information about the items featured in the archives is encouraged to contact NIST at library@nist.gov.


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