Historic Physics Collection

Objects on display in the Historic Physics Collection Museum, Poynting Building

The Historic Physics Collection represents the history of physics teaching and the ground-breaking technologies developed at the University of Birmingham. When the University’s first Professor of Physics, John Henry Poynting, set up the new laboratories in the early 1900s he purchased the best equipment available at the time. 

From early galvanometers to the latest digital technology, the collection demonstrates the evolution of physics instrumentation, before the advent of the computer, and the evolution of scholarship that follows naturally from this. The School of Physics and Astronomy has been involved in major research projects throughout its history. The Historic Physics Collection includes seminal items relating to this work, including objects relating to Poynting’s measurement of the gravitational constant, which enabled the weight of the earth to be calculated. One of the world’s first proton synchrotron accelerators was developed at the University during the 1950s and 60s, which is represented through objects and archival materials. The collection also includes various components of the cavity magnetron, which was invented at the University by John Randall and Harry Boot. The magnetron was the basis of radar and enabled the building of radar stations around the British coast to detect incoming aircraft during World War Two.