Humboldt State University

Robert A. Paselk Scientific Instrument Museum

The Chemical Balance at Humboldt State, 1926-1986

Richard A. Paselk, curator

The Early Years

Unfortunately very little information has been been found on science education during the early years of Humboldt's existence. The various histories of the college and university largely ignore science and science education. What information I have found has been gleaned from course catalogs, a couple of year books where science was included, and personal recollections.

As noted in my brief essay on the Humboldt State Teachers College Period it would appear that science apparatus was not used on campus until around 1925. The inventory list from this early period indicates that analytical balances were among the apparatus obtained at that time. One of the three Voland balances on that first inventory (all listed as Chemistry property) is in the collection displayed in our main Library cases.

The 1950's

Prior to the construction of the new science building (now the east wing of Science A), the chemistry laboratory facilities were in the basement of Founder's Hall. Three descriptions of the Founder's Hall facilities are quoted below.

Bill Papke attended Humboldt as a student from 1951-1957 and describes the situation he met as a student (personnal correspondence, September 2008):

As I remember it... The chemistry and physics labs were in the basement of Founders Hall. This was one level down from the quad and ran along the back of the building. There was a service road at the back of Founders Hall and the lab windows faced that way. . . . The main freshman chemistry lab was central to this group of labs. If my memory serves me Organic and Analytical Chemistry occupied the lab nearest the south end of the corridor. The balance room was an annex on the north end of this lab. We had very simple analytical balances and the weights had to all be calibrated...and woe to the student if one of the weights got misplaced into another weight set. Art Smith had a "chain-o-matic" in his office for his use only.

Moving north along the corridor I think the next room was the Chemistry storeroom. I was a student aid to the Chem 1A and worked out of this room at various times. Next came the largest lab, which was the Freshman Chemistry lab. There was a door at the south end of this lab that had access to the storeroom.1

Faculty teaching in the Late 1950's recall that the analytical balances were housed in special locked cases in the hall outside the lab itself. 2 They describe these cases as having lids which lifted up on hinges to reveal the balances. Faculty “had to come-in in the morning to open cases before class.” Dr. Mervin Hanson was a chemistry student at Humboldt (1956-1961) and later a Humboldt chemistry faculty member 1965-2001). He recalled (personnal correspondence, June 2007):

I took Chem 1A from Art Smith in the Fall of 1956 and Chem 1B from John B. Russel in the Spring. Art introduce my class to the use of the double pan balances. These balances were housed in padlocked boxes located outside the basement labs in Founders. At the time this balance represented the most delicate and maybe the most sophisticated instrument I had ever used and I was impressed. I do not remember the first time I used a balance only that I spent a lot of time in front of one or another of them. I used to think I was pretty good to only need 2-5 minutes to determine a mass to 0.1 mg.

Then I took Quant . . . and we had to calibrate our comparison masses! Now that was exotic technique. I think it took us a 3 hour lab to complete the calibration. From that point on a mass determination was just as fast as in General Chemistry but you could believe the result was as good as advertised (+/- 0.1 mg).

Dr. Roger Weiss (Humboldt chemistry faculty member, 1959-89) described the situation as follows (personnal correspondence, June 2007):

Because the lab in Founders shared by analyt[ical chemistry], organic [chemistry] and biochem[istry] had no balance room, the analytical balances were located in a corridor in the basement of Founders outside the lab. The balances were on tables that were inside head-high cabinets. It was far from an ideal location as far as stability, drafts and ambient temperatures were concerned. But the laboratory atmosphere was too corrosive to place the balances in the lab.

Dr. Weiss also describes student use of the two-pan balances:

Weighing to tenths of mg on a two-pan equal-arm balance was a tedious and time-consuming process, adding and removing weights manually with a forceps. It took endless time for a novice student to make a weighing and 20-30 minutes to make a weighing after some familiarity was attained. This was in addition to the one-time procedure for calibrating the balance at various loads.

The 1960's

The new science building (east half of Science A) was completed around 1961 and the Chemistry and Physics departments moved into their new laboratories and facilities. It was several months after moving to Science A before the Mettler (single-pan, unequal-arm, constant-load) analytical balances arrived so the two-pan, equal arm balances were used once (one semester) after the move.

In 1961 a total of 18 Mettler H5 analytical balances (160 g capacity, precision = ±0.1 mg) were purchased. Based on later inventories from the 1970's and 1980's six each were probably placed in the two general chemistry balance rooms (SA 567A and 571A). These balance room were small side rooms with heavy lab tables (maple frames with 1+ inch thick composite tops (they were later reduced in size when the Department transitioned to digital balances, where fewer balances and thus less space was needed).

The new science building had an Analytical balance room on the ground floor.The room was specifically designed for sensitive balances. It had a heavy concrete table cast into the floor running down the center of the room, and concrete shelves cast as part of the walls on three sides. The table/shelf surfaces were covered by black "Carrara" glass sheets for the balances to rest on providing an easily cleaned surface where spills were obvious. Finally, an isolated concrete pillar was sunk into the ground to bedrock in the NE corner of the balance room to provide extra stability for a micro-balance balance capable of weighing to a microgram.

The last six Mettler H5 Analytical chemistry balances were placed in the Analytical balance room (SA 369A). In 1962 two additional high precision Mettler balances were purchased for this room:

  1. Mettler H16 Semi-Micro balance (80 g capacity, precision = ±0.01 mg) used in the Analytical balance room.
  2. Mettler M5 S/A Analytical Micro balance (20 g capacity, precision = 0.001 mg). This balance was mounted on an isolated concrete pillar sunk into the ground to bedrock in the NE corner of the balance room to provide extra stability for the balance capable of weighing to a microgram.

As seen in a 1963 photo, two older balances joined them, the Christian Becker Chainomatic Analytical balance that had once resided in Dr. Art Smith's office mentioned above, and a Christian Becker Chainomatic Specific Gravity balance purchased in 1959, and used in Physical chemistry laboratory into the 1990's.

Finally, a single Mettler H15 analytical balance (160 g capacity, precision = ±0.03 mg — note this higher quality balance has the same capacity as the H5, but is for "professional" use and listed at $770 vs. $650 for the H5) was purchased in 1962. It was probably for faculty use, in the 1980's it was used in the Qualitative Analysis prep room, SB 121.

The 1970's and on


The 1988 HSU inventory shows the following:

1 From University inventories and other documents the Chemistry department had purchased at least five balances prior to 1950 (three Voland balances, c. 1930, two Christian Becker balances, 1948, and the Chainomatic balance in Dr. Smith's office. These are probably the balances seen by Mr. Papke. Three Voland 200 balances were purchased c. 1954 and may also have been in this early group that were apparently used in a balance room.

2 The disparity in the comments of Mr. Papke and Drs Hanson and Weiss may result from a remodel that apparently took place c. 1955. According to Dr. Thomas Clark, Dr. Arthur Smith got "new" chemistry labs c. 1955 in a Founder's Hall remodel (personal verbal comments, September 2013). I am assuming that the analytical balances were moved to their custom cabinets in the hall at this time, as later witnessed by Drs Hanson and Weiss. From the presence of seven SeKo balance beam and pan packing cases still in the Chemistry department stores (9/22/2013), it appears the Chemistry department also purchased new two-pan 200 g analytical balances at this time (Register Number 45652, Serial Numbers 2A262–2F262). These balances were apparently removed from inventory in 1971 in exchange for six new Mettler H10 and one Mettler H10Tw analytical balances purchased at that time, and thus have been unavailable for inclusion in the Museum.

A William Ainsworth LC balances (10/1956), used in Chem 1-C balance room in SB 122, later stored in SA 571 balance room for use as demo. A Second 2/(1957) discarded from Physics stockroom clean-up, 1989. It was set up as a capacitance balance with custom glass rod connected to an Al plate, but was restored to original condition and used to the present as a demonstration/display in the General Chemistry balance room (SA 571A; 9/22/2013).

Balance Exhibit Catalog

 HSTC icon
HSTC (1921-34)
HSC 35-53 icon
HSC (1935-1953)
HSC 54-73 icon
HSC (1954-1973)

© R. Paselk

Last modified 29 October 2008, 23 September 2013