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Physical Sciences and Space

Physical sciences and space are grouped together at the Canada Science and Technology Museum as a single curatorial area. Although there is considerable diversity in the disciplines included, their development and the transformation of their technology has been driven by application of the scientific method. Within this curatorial division, you can visit the following areas:

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The nature of scientific discovery in Canada has evolved from expeditions of exploration and resource discovery, to a discipline of educational institutions, to one of fundamental research of international scope. With European expeditions came astronomers, navigators and cartographers to develop maps; only occasional expeditions had purely scientific objectives. In the nineteenth century, science became a tool of discovery for resources and land development and became a compulsory subject in schools and universities. By late in the nineteenth century, scientific research had become an integral part of scientists" work in universities and government departments--it started to become the engine that drove resource development. With the advent of the space and computer ages, Canadian scientists began to contribute more to the medical and communications objectives of our society.

Nobel Laureate (1994), Dr. Bertram Brockhouse with the triple-axis spectrometer he conceived and for which he was awarded the Nobel Prize. This image shows the spectrometer (now in the Museum's collection, artifact # 951561) at Atomic Energy of Canada's NRU reactor in Chalk River, Ontario ca. 1958.

Disciplines and Guiding Principles

The various disciplines of the physical sciences and space curatorial area are largely developed independently. However, there is considerable cross fertilization between them and, indeed, to other curatorial disciplines at the Museum. These links reinforce the Museum's theme, the transformation of Canada.

The disciplines represented in the Canada Science and Technology Museum physical sciences collection are:

Old trade literature, like this 1907 Hearn & Harrison catalogue, is one of our primary research tools.

  • Physics and its subdivisions
    • Astronomy
    • Chronometry
    • Meteorology
    • Metrology
  • Chemistry and its subdivisions
    • Biochemistry
    • Organic and Inorganic Chemistry
    • Physical Chemistry
  • Computing Technology
  • Exploration and Surveying
  • Medicine and Health Care

In Canada, the Canada Science and Technology Museum holds the largest general collection of scientific apparatus dating from the seventeenth century to the present. Acquisitions for the physical sciences collection follow a strategy to develop a representative collection for important technologies and innovations. Priority is given to apparatus developed in Canada, although our historic development and the nature of the scientific enterprise dictates that equipment from many sources be acquired to build a representative collection. This also allows us to compare the level of innovation of Canadian scientists and technical personnel with their foreign counterparts.

The "national collection" has more than 5 000 artifacts and includes supporting documentation such as manuals, trade literature and photos. It is the natural depository for scientific apparatus developed by many government departments and we actively seek out such equipment. Located in the geographic area with the second-highest number of scientific and technical personnel in Canada and the centre of government research, this job is made somewhat easier.

Many artifacts in the collection originated from Canadian government departments especially in:

The majority of the collection dates from the late 19th century but we actively collect modern apparatus, especially in the computing technology and space categories and artifacts that were innovative and influential to the development of the technology. In the interpretation of the collection, we employ a material history perspective frequently beginning from an analysis of the technical aspects of the apparatus and the methods and techniques used to fabricate it.

John Chapman, architect of Canada's early space programme, points to the high gain receiving antenna on the Alouette 1 spacecraft. The launch of Alouette 1 in 1962 gave Canada the distinction of being the third nation to have a satellite in Earth orbit. Alouette was designed to study the radio transmission characteristics of the upper atmosphere's ionospheric layer. A second identical, flight-ready Alouette satellite (artifact # 730375) is preserved in the Museum's space technology collection.

Related Exhibits and Science Resources
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Questions regarding Physical Sciences and Space should be sent to: or