Copper in the Arts

April 2011

New Copper and Glass Wing at UA Museum Focuses on Optical Sciences

Magic lantern and kerosene lamp. A German-built 1800s magic lantern and kerosene lamp,an antique precursor of today's movie industry equipment, is among the artifacts on display at the Museum of Optics.

Photograph courtesy of The College of Optical Sciences

The new copper and glass West Wing of the College of Optical Sciences at the University of Arizona has garnered worldwide attention as an architectural triumph, but visitors have a treat waiting to be seen inside as well.

The Museum of Optics pays tribute to the discipline's past and illustrates the history of optics, optical engineering and optical design. There are, spread throughout the building, more than 400 antique and historic telescopes, microscopes, binoculars, lenses, cameras and even opera glasses, mostly made of copper and glass.

John Grievenkamp, a professor of optical sciences at the UA for the past two decades, is the founding curator of the museum. While a number of pieces were donated, Grievenkamp procured most of the collection from online sources and dealers who specialize in antique optics.

Grievenkamp said the oldest pieces in the collection date from the early 1700s. He said he started it "in response to observations I made while teaching optical engineering and instrumentation at the college. Students were losing touch with the history of the technology they were learning."

Fearing that the same thing was happening to him, Greivenkamp obtained a telescope from the early 1800s.

"It was amazing to hold and to look through," he says.


The University of Arizona, Museum of Optics, 888 N. Euclid Ave. Room 413, Tucson, AZ, (520) 621-2211

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