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Special Exhibition Label: 'Eccentricity: Unexpected Objects and Irregular Behaviour' (10/5/2011 - 16/10/2011)

Oxford scientists

Oxford has a reputation for eccentricity so this exhibition has to have a showcase of eccentric objects from Oxford scientists.

Inventory no.

A bottled specimen of the efflorescence from the walls of this building, labelled 'Nitre from the walls of the Museum'. The phenomenon was first observed in 1691 and still continues today. Several of the chemistry professors who taught here analysed and published on the nature of the substance, including Martin Wall and William Higgins. This specimen may have been collected by Dr John Kidd (1775-1851), the first Aldrichian Professor of Chemistry, who published an account in the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society in 1814.

The account by Wall, published in 1785, observes: 'The wall of one end of my chemical school, or laboratory, is almost entirely covered with such an efflorescence. The laboratory is a large vaulted room under ground [now the large Basement Gallery of the Museum], into which the sun seldom has admission. It is built of stone, and therefore, except when fires are kept up for lectures, or occasional experiments, is liable to be damp. The wall, to which I allude, is immediately under a retired passage, a very convenient place of retreat to foot-passengers under certain circumstances of necessity. The ground, therefore, and the adjacent wall have been for years largely impregnated with excrementitious animal fluids, in all the different stages of putrefaction.'

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