he Physical Chemical Laboratory

The last two decades of the nineteenth century were a period of change in the organization and teaching of science at the university. By 1895, these changes were reflected in the buildings at the institution with the construction of the Physical and Chemical Laboratory and the Observatory.

Science in the University from 1877 to 1890

In June, 1877, President Loomis, who was also Professor of Natural Sciences, read to the Trustees a "special report" that contained "special charges" made by him against Charles S. James, Professor of Mathematics and Natural Philosophy since 1851. That same year the Trustees dismissed James from the faculty. The following year, President Loomis made a verbal report to the Trustees on filling the Professorship of Mathematics and Natural Philosophy and the Professorship of Natural Sciences and presented the names of candidates for the two professorships. He also announced that he was resigning as President and he retired in December, 1878. David Jayne Hill, a member of the faculty, replaced him as President.

After the dismissal of James, Charles S. Allen was elected Professor of Natural Sciences in January, 1878, and George Morris Philips was elected Professor of Mathematics and Natural Philosophy in June, 1878. In December, 1878, Allen resigned his position because of "certain complications between himself and the junior class." In 1879, James sued Philips "with a view of testing the validity of [James's] removal from the chair of Mathematics and Natural Philosophy and of [Philips'] election to the same." At this time George D. Groff, M.D., was under consideration to replace Allen. In 1880, the Trustees discussed the confirmation of Groff as Professor of Natural Sciences but decided that because of "the complications growing out of the case of Professor James it was deemed inexpedient to elect a Professor of Natural Sciences at this time." In 1881, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court reversed the ruling of the lower court that had found in favor of James, and the Trustees voted to confirm the appointment of Groff as Professor of Natural Sciences. That same year, Professor Philips' department was designated as "Mathematics, Physics and Astronomy." By 1882, Professor William C. Bartol, Class of 1872, had replaced Philips. In 1887, Groff's title was changed to "Professor of Organic Science."

Around the same time, the university was expanding the opportunity for all its members to study science and was encouraging the integration of the various parts of the institution. In 1876, the Trustees voted that students in the Female Institute "be allowed the use of the Philosophical apparatus of the University under the direction of the Professor having charge of such apparatus", which referred to the laboratory equipment and materials of physical science. The next year, the Trustees instructed the faculty to make whatever changes or modifications were necessary to facilitate "the joint recitations of Classes in various Departments of the University," meaning the College, the Academy and the Female Institute.

In 1882, all dangerous chemicals were removed from the University building and all experiments involving their use were discontinued. Following this, a small building for use as a laboratory was erected at a cost of approximately $500.00. In 1886, when the University at Lewisburg became Bucknell University, the Trustees stressed the need to construct a new chemical laboratory building.

By the mid-1880's, there was an increased interest in science, and in 1885 students at the University presented a petition requesting an additional professor of Natural Sciences. That same year, William Gundy Owens, Class of 1880, was appointed Adjunct Professor of Natural Sciences. Owens drew the plans for the Physical and Chemical Laboratory, which were approved by the Trustees in June, 1887, the same year that Owens was given the title of "Professor of Physics and Chemistry." The site of the building was at the base of the hill between the College and Academy at the top of the hill and the Female Institute in the grove below. It was located near the intersection of South Sixth Street with Loomis and Walker Streets. William Bucknell provided a total of $25,000.00 for the construction of the laboratory and for the alterations to the President's house that were made at the same time.

Presentatioin of the Laboratory

The building was presented on behalf of the Bucknell family by James H. Little, husband of Mr. Bucknell's eldest daughter, at Commencement on June 30, 1890. In l891, the $1,167.00 remaining from the funds allocated for the construction of the building was used to purchase apparatus for the laboratory.

The Physical and Chemical Laboratroy in 1895

In 1893, the Trustees recommended that Professor Owens "be relieved of the Department of Physics" as soon as practical, and in 1894, Professor Owens requested, "Liberty to confine himself more exclusively to chemistry." By 1895, Professor Owens was teaching mostly chemistry and possibly some physics, and Professor Groff was teaching "organic science", which would soon become biology.

In 1895, the two story Physical and Chemical Laboratory contained a lecture room with seating for one hundred and twenty-five students and a large room for work in chemical analysis on the first floor. The second floor contained a lecture room for the class in physics and rooms for laboratory work in organic science. Rooms for photometry, applied chemistry and electricity were in the basement.

"special report" BT '46-'82 (6/26/1887)

"certain complications..." BT '46-'82 12/27/1878)

"with a view of testing..." BT '46-'82 (6/24/1879)

"the complications growing..." BT '46-'82 (6/22/1880)

"be allowed to use..." BT '46-'82 (6/27/1876)

"the joint recitations of..." BT '82-'20, p. 60 (6/1887)

"be relieved of..." BT '82-'20, p. 129 (6/20/1893)

"liberty to confine himself..." BT '82-'20, p. 137 (6/19/1894)

The major sources for the information on this page are the Minutes of the Board of Trustees of Bucknell University, 1846-1882 (BT '46-'82) and the Minutes of the Board of Trustees of Bucknell University, 1882-1920 (BT '82-'20). Additional sources are Oliphant, Rise of Bucknell; Theiss, Centennial History; and the Forty-fifth Annual Catalogue of Bucknell University, 1894-95 (CAT '94-95) and the Forty-sixth Annual Catalogue of Bucknell University, 1895-96 (CAT '95-'96)

This building in other years: 1915 | 1945 | 1965 | 1985 | Current
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