AIP History Center Newsletter
Volume XXVII, No. 2, Fall 1995

 

New Center for Study of Innovation at the Smithsonian


In January 1995 the Jerome and Dorothy Lemelson Center for the Study of Invention and Innovation was founded at the National Museum of American History of the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, DC, through a generous gift from the Lemelson Foundation. The Lemelson Center's mission is to document, interpret, and disseminate information about invention and innovation. The new Center has already established a presence on the Internet, and the following information is taken chiefly from its World Wide Web homepage.

Through a variety of programs, the Center hopes to encourage inventive creativity in young people and foster an appreciation for the central role invention and innovation play in the history of the United States. Programs under development include oral and video histories of inventors and the creation of electronic research tools citing papers and artifacts. Scholarship will also be advanced through the creation of fellowships and internships and by sponsoring symposia and conferences. These activities will also serve the public; for example, some of the video and oral history materials will be incorporated into a CD-ROM on invention, targeted for high-school students, as well as in interactive computer activities for the Museum's exhibit floor. Besides museum exhibitions there will be lectures, demonstrations, and other outreach through print, television, computer media, and the Internet. A curriculum project is also in the works.

One example of the Lemelson Center's work to document the history of innovation in the United States is preservation of materials on the "Tantalus" Synchrotron Radiation Source. At the University of Wisconsin during 1965-1967, a team led by particle physicist Ednor Rowe built a machine designed to analyze what goes on inside high-energy particle accelerators. But just as the apparatus neared completion, funding was cut off. Its creators, feeling teased by fate (and their government backers), dubbed the machine "Tantalus." Rowe knew, though, that a by-product of Tantalus's operation was intense ultraviolet synchrotron radiation. He quickly adapted the machine to make this radiation available for use, and soon the facility was crowded with experimenters. Tantalus remained an important research tool until 1987, when it was replaced by a newer machine. The National Museum of American History is collecting part of Tantalus and, with the support of the Lemelson Center, has conducted video-history interviews with Rowe and others connected with the machine's lifespan. This material documenting the history of Tantalus will be available in the museum's Archives Center later in 1995.

Arthur P. Molella is the Center's Director and Robert C. Post, formerly of Technology and Culture, is the Associate Director. Other staff include Claudine K. Klose, Program Manager; Joyce E. Bedi, Historian; Eva Fischer, Management Support Assistant; and Monica Smith, Research Assistant.

For more information contact the Jerome and Dorothy Lemelson Center for the Study of Invention and Innovation, National Museum of American History, Room 4027, MRC 654, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC 20560; phone (202) 357-1593, Fax (202) 357-4517, e-mail mah0hf7@sivm.si.edu. The Web home page is at: http://www.si.edu/lemelson/.


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