Object of the Month

Emma, a student from University of Melbourne, talks about her choice of object of the month.

Charles Lapworth’s Microscope

Dated: 1896

J Parkes & Son Birmingham

Designed by Professor Charles Lapworth and manufactured by Birmingham’s J.Parkes & Son in 1896, this remarkable microscope holds historic and scientific significance for the studies of biostratigraphy; the use of fossils for comparative aging of different rock sequences.

Professor Charles LapworthIn his career Professor Charles Lapworth became known as the world authority on graptolite fossils. His pioneering studies revealed the importance of graptolites in biostratigraphy, being pelagic they were wide spread this combined with their rapid evolution meant they could be utilized to define, identify and date geological periods and correlate rock sequences around the world. In his most notable achievement, he collected graptolites in the field using these to demonstrate the structural complexities of the Southern Uplands of Scotland leading to a reinterpretation of the geological mapping of this area.

Lapworth was challenged in reproducing adequate sketches of these graptolites to publish this discovery. He found that the fossil structure could only be partially recorded due to one static point of illumination. He designed this unique microscope that facilitated control and variation of lighting, ensuring that every structure could be fully distinguished and recorded.

Charles Lapworth sketch of graptolitesThe microscope enabled his assistant Ethel Wood to draw detailed sketches and Gertrude Elles to describe the graptolites more accurately. The culmination of their work is published in the Monograph of British Graptolites which remains to this day as the standard reference.

The microscope was donated to the Geology Department after Lapworth’s retirement in 1913. It continued to be used by staff and students until the mid-1940s when it was entrusted into the care of the Lapworth Museum where it is stored amongst Lapworth’s archives.

Emma says: I am a student from University of Melbourne on exchange to work amongst the University of Birmingham’s vast cultural collections. I was intrigued by this remarkable object and felt its presence reinserts Charles Lapworth and his assistants into the museum narrative, acting as a reminder of their pioneering studies and innovation to the field of geology.