Humboldt State University

Robert A. Paselk Scientific Instrument Museum

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Student Spectroscope


Humboldt S-T-C; c.1935

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The oldest optical method for chemical analysis, Bunsen and Kirchhoff introduced spectroscopy as a laboratory method in 1860. The basic features of the spectroscope (or spectrometer) include a slit and collimator to produce a parallel beam of light which then falls on the dispersive element (a prism or grating). The resulting spectrum is then observed through a telescope. Spectrometers are particularly valued in two types of studies: 1) The identitfication and quantification of elements by the observation of line spectra (emission or absorption), 2) The identification and quantification of substances by the observation of absorption bands.

In this spectrometer the prism table, the collimator, and the telescope positions may be determined relative to a graduated circle. This example is AO Spencer's student instrument. It could be used for the determination and analysis of spectra using either a prism or grating. It could also be used in the measurement of angles between prism faces, the determination of angles of refraction and reflection etc. In another common type of instrument, the Bunsen Spectroscope, there is no graduated circle, instead measurements are made relative to a projected scale.
Some contemporary/early descriptions of the spectroscope and its use are provided below:



Bennet, J. A. The Celebrated Phaenomena of Colours: the early history of the spectroscope. Whipple Museum of the History of Science, Cambridge (1984).

Brand, John C. D. Lines of Light: The Sources of Dispersive Spectroscopy, 1800-1930. Gordon and Breach Publishers (1995)

Minor, Ralph S., Physical Measurements, A Laboratory Manual in General Physics for Colleges: Part 2, Magnetism and Electricity, Sound and Light 3rd ed, Associated Student's Store, Berkeley (1956) pp. 118-121, 122-124, 158-159.


HSTC Instrument Collection

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HSTC (1921-34)
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HSC (1935-1953)
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HSC (1954-1973)

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Last modified 30 August 2010