Discovery in the Photo Archives: Kamerlingh Onnes Laboratory

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By Savannah Gignac, Assistant Photo Librarian

Display at the Kamerlingh Onnes Laboratory showing "door meten tot weten" - "knowledge through measurement" motto of Heike Kamerlingh Onnes.Dutch physicist and Nobel laureate Heike Kamerlingh Onnes was born on September 21st, 1853 in Groningen, Netherlands. Kamerlingh Onnes’ experiments focused on how materials reacted when cooled to nearly absolute zero.  These studies included Kamerlingh Onnes’ being the first person to liquify helium and his 1911 discovery of superconductivity.

Kamerlingh Onnes served as professor of experimental physics at the University of Leiden from 1882 to 1923. In 1904, he founded a large cryogenics laboratory. He became highly regarded in the scientific community for inviting other researchers to the lab. This laboratory is now known as Kamerlingh Onnes Laboratory. 

A recent discovery in AIP’s Emilio Segrè Visual Archives revealed an album of snapshots from daily life in the laboratory. These images depict the facilities, experimental lab equipment, and staff portraits.  The album reveals an amateur photographer’s experience visiting the laboratory and its staff members. A Dutch phrase commonly seen throughout this historic photo collection is, "door meten tot weten" roughly translated to "knowledge through measurement,” a motto of Heike Kamerlingh Onnes. Other highlights include the illustrations drawn on the walls of the lab alluding to scientific experiments.


Staff Portrait at Kamerlingh Onnes Laboratory  Drawings and garland over stairway at Kamerlingh Onnes Laboratory.