Chambers’ Micromanipulator (c. 1929)
University of Toronto Scientific Instruments Collection, No. 2012.ihpst.15.
A micromanipulator is a tool for manipulating objects under microscopic magnification. Its development permitted scientists to touch and interact with the microscopic world. The micromanipulator matured as a laboratory technology over the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, a period during which laboratories dedicated public health research were founded across the world.
This Chambers’ Micromanipulator was acquired by the University of Toronto School of Hygiene, likely in the late 1920s or early 1930s. The School, which combined research, education, and medicine production, had been founded in 1927 using money from the Rockefeller Foundation. Its establishment confirmed Toronto’s status as a world centre for advancing public health. This instrument would have been use in epidemiological research. Its possible uses include the isolation of microorganisms in order to produce single cell colonies for research purposes, or the study of characteristics of living cells and tissues.
I first encountered the Chambers’ Micromanipulator while doing a PhD in the history of science at the Institute for the History and Philosophy of Science and Technology (IHPST) at the University of Toronto. It was among a number of historical medical objects that had been acquired by the Institute. We added these instruments, including the micromanipulator, to a catalogue of historical instruments that we were in the process of developing. This instrument is one of the very few objects representing medical research at the University of Toronto that we have been able to acquire for the collection so far.
I find this technology very interesting and have been working with a number of people at the University of Toronto to recreate a number of parts that are missing from it. My goal is both to create an aesthetic reproduction of the complete instrument as it would have been used at the School of Hygiene as well as to restore it to working order so that I can use it to perform basic laboratory operations—a process that historians call “scientific re-enactment” or “tactile history of science.”
Associate, Institute for the History and Philosophy of Science and Technology.