Last update: 13 December 2016

The Scientifica Gallery displays objects and documents relating to both fundamental and natural sciences, as well as to medicine. So far, sections include geometry, extraterrestrial life, phrenology and alienism. This gallery is still in construction.

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Fundamental sciences

Natural sciences

Extraterrestrial life
Late 19th to early 21st century

Photograph signed by D. S. McKay, E. K. Gibson and K. L. Thomas-Keprta, co-authors of the famous 1996 Science paper on fossil life in the Martian meteorite ALH84001.

See also: The Hall of Meteorites

Claims of Indigenous Life Forms in Meteorites: A Short Review
Full article published in Meteorite magazine (vol. 17, no. 4, pp. 34-38, 2011) available here

Are we alone in the Universe? The answer has eluded mankind until now. Or has it? Scientists have repeatedly claimed to have found proof of extraterrestrial life. The histogram shown in [1] depicts the chronology of claims of indigenous life forms, both past and present, found in meteorites, as well as the subsequent debates, from the early age of meteoritics to the present day. The histogram’s cycle-like structure is striking. Each cycle starts with one extraordinary claim: meteoritic stones and irons contain fossils of multi-cellular invertebrates (Hahn, 1880), chondrites contain living indigenous bacteria (Lipman, 1932; Geraci et al., 2001), microfossils can be found in carbonaceous meteorites (Nagy et al., 1961; Hoover, 2011) as well as in Martian meteorites (McKay et al., 1996) [2]. Other studies always follow, refuting or corroborating the initial claim. Finally, the hypothesis dies off, though some have been revitalized decades later in a new cycle. Interestingly, this structure follows Thomas Kuhn’s famous Structure of Scientific Revolutions (e.g., Kuhn, 1970).
Following Occam’s razor, if two hypotheses lead to the same result, the simplest one is always to be preferred. Thus complex shapes observed in meteorites, whether they are from asteroids, comets or from the planet Mars, are likely to be mineral concretions of random forms or terrestrial contaminants. However, the study of the strange and the unknown clearly has some appeal and research will continue. Although the claim of life in meteorites can be considered at the present time as fringe science, this might change in the future. So, for now, let’s wait for a sedimentary Martian meteorite to fall on Earth. Maybe, finally, we’ll find some undeniable proof of alien life, past or present.

Figures: [1] Meta-analysis (Mignan, 2011) | [2] Photograph (McKay et al.)


19th & 20th centuries

1905 letter sent from Cairo by G. E. Smith to E. A. Spitzka, about the brain of E. Séguin. Smith worked on the British Museum brain catalogue before being appointed to Cairo.

Scientific collections of human remains: from skulls to brains

Description coming later

Figures: Smith, 1903 (Presentation copy: E.A. Spitzka) | Letter (G.E. Smith to E.A. Spitzka, 1903) | Letter (G.E. Smith to E.A. Spitzka, 1905)

By Spitzka, father & son
Late-19th to early 20th century

Newspaper clippings on insanity from the Spitzka collection, here the portraits of a girl mud-eater and two mothers who killed their children (early 1900s).

The Spitzka newspaper clipping collection on insane people & on electric shocks

Edward Charles Spitzka (1852-1914), the father, was an eminent late-19th century alienist, neurologist, and anatomist. He was the author of the landmark psychiatric manual "Treatise on Insanity, Its Classification, Diagnosis and Treatment," published in 1883 [1] and was a co-founder of the American Anthropometric Society (AAS), an organisation devoted to collect and study the brains of notable individuals (see "Phrenology" slide abobe). He also collected newspaper articles about insanity [2].
Spitzka was the attending physician at the execution of William Kemmler in New York's Auburn Prison on August 6, 1890, the first execution using the new electric chair. The second attending physician was Carlos F. MacDonald (1845-1926), alienist and the chairman of the New York State Commission in Lunacy from 1880 to 1896 [1]. He was involved in the design of the first electric chair and examined Leon Czolgosz, pronouncing him sane enough to be executed in the electric chair after the assassination of President William McKinley in 1901. Edward Anthony Spitzka (1876-1922), the son, was an anatomist who autopsied the brain of Leon Czolgosz. He was widely recognized as one of the world's leading brain anatomists, who performed post-mortem examinations of the brains of many distinguished American men hold by the AAS. He also examined the brains of criminals executed by electrocution to see how electrical current affected the tissue and for features to account for their criminal behaviour. He was additionally a proponent of death by electric shock [3]. The Spitza newspaper clipping collection contains different sections on electrocution, including natural lightnings, live wire accidents and executions by electric chair (coming soon).

Figures: [1] E.C. Spitzka, 1883 (C.F. MacDonald) | [2] Newspaper clippings on insanity (E.C. Spitzka) | [3] E.A. Spitzka, 1908 (E.A. Spitzka)