Wilder’s unfortunate plaque

January 27th, 2013  |  Published in all news, History, Lamb & Rich, preservation

Dartmouth has marred the generally-well preserved front facade of the historic Wilder Laboratory by gluing (?) a plaque to it (APS News). It is hard to blame the American Physical Society for overlooking Dartmouth’s historic preservation goals or for drafting the text of the plaque with less care than one might hope for,* but Dartmouth should be embarrassed by this oversight.

When Wilder undergoes a restoration in the future, the plaque will probably be moved to an appropriate location. It is not clear whether the removal will leave permanent damage.

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*The plaque reads:


At this site, the Wilder Physical Laboratory, Dartmouth College, from 1900 to 1903 E.F.
Nichols and G.F. Hull performed the first precise measurement of the radiation pressure
of light on a macroscopic body, as predicted by J.C. Maxwell in 1873. The Nichols-Hull
experiment provided convincing evidence for the pressure of light, and the transfer of
momentum between light and matter, a phenomenon which has enabled critical
developments in a wide range of fields from atomic physics to biology to astrophysics.


HISTORIC PHYSICS SITE, REGISTER OF HISTORIC SITES
AMERICAN PHYSICAL SOCIETY


Quibbles with the wording:

  • The plaque has enough space to inform the reader that he is at Dartmouth College but too little space to provide the first names of the two researchers? They are Ernest and Gordon.
  • Why say “At this site” when the event really did not take place at the front of the building? (I would argue that “At this site” usually indicates either a precise location or the site of a non-existent building, neither of which is the case here.)
  • The experiments actually took place in some laboratory, probably upstairs: wouldn’t it be great if the plaque could tell us this by its text or its placement?
  • Why omit the comma after 1903, especially if you are not going to end the first line after 1903? This mistake makes “E.F.” look like a new form of “A.D.”
  • Are the pressure of light and the transfer of momentum between light and matter really one phenomenon, or are they two phenomena, as indicated by the commas around the momentum phrase?
  • Is it traditional to include three items in the “from x to y” formulation, or would it be better to say “a wide range of fields including x, y, and z”?
  • Does the redundant phrase “REGISTER OF HISTORIC SITES” imply some undeserved connection with the National Register of Historic Places? Wouldn’t that phrase be more accurate and explanatory if it occurred after the phrase “AMERICAN PHYSICAL SOCIETY”?

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