Sara J. Schechner will be coming to speak in The Paul and Irene Hollister Seminar on Glass, Wednesday, February 10, 2010 on: “What Galileo Saw and How: Glass and its Challenges for 17th Century Telescope Makers.”

Dr. Schechner is currently the David P. Wheatland Curator of the Collection of Historical Scientific Instruments at Harvard University, a position she has held since 2000. She received her B.A. and M.A in History and Science from Harvard University, her M.Phil. in History and Philosophy of Science from Cambridge University and her Ph.D. in the History of Science from Harvard University.

Dr. Schechner has curated many exhibitions, the most recent being a permanent exhibit that began in 2007 titled, The Rediscovery of the Mind: Harvard and the Cognitive Revolution, at Harvard University. She has received numerous awards and honors including the Joseph H. Hazen Education Prize from the History of Science Society in 2008 and First Place in the International Design Awards in 2007 for her exhibit titled, Time, Life, & Matter.

Dr. Schechner is the author of many articles, essays and books including Comets, Popular Culture, and the Birth of Modern Cosmology (Princeton University Press, 1997) and she is currently working on Sundials and Time Finding Instruments, vols. 3 and 4 of Historic Scientific Instruments of the Adler Planetarium & Astronomy Museum, with Bruce Chandler, to be published in 2010 or 2011.

The invention of the telescope announced in The Hague in September 1608 caused excitement throughout Europe. By April 1609, low-power (3x) spyglasses were for sale in Paris, and by June or July, Galileo had made his first three-power instrument. In August, he offered the Venetian Senate an eight-power telescope, and by October or November, Galileo completed a twenty-power instrument. It was at this time that he turned the telescope skyward. His discoveries were stunning! His findings, published in haste in the Starry Messenger in March 1610, opened up the European skies to telescopic observations and whole new areas of astronomical research. Why were some hesitant to accept Galileo’s discoveries or unable to replicate what he saw? Why did telescope magnification seem to stall at about thirty-power? The answers can be found through a better understanding of material culture. Acceptance of the telescope as a tool of scientific discovery and improvements to the instrument were limited by the quality of the glass; the methods of shaping, grinding, and polishing lenses; the difficulties in mounting the lenses and tubes; the field of view through the instrument; and optical aberrations caused by the shape of the glass. When we consider the challenges presented by glass instruments, Galileo’s achievements 400 years ago are even more remarkable. Hands-on activities will be included.

Please join us in the Lecture Hall at 38 West 86th Street, between Columbus Ave and Central Park West at 5:45pm for a light reception before the talk.

The Paul and Irene Hollister Lectures on Glass are made possible through a generous endowment from Irene Hollister in memory of her late husband Paul.