Why you should take this class if you are interested in Physics?


            We are descending into a time, in which the rather academic pursuit of Natural Philosophy, mainly exercised through the study of the antique masters such as Aristotle, had to develop into applied science, following the demands and needs of mining industries. The 16th century in Europe brought with it an onslaught of early scientific works, based on experience, measurement and observation, following rules of prediction and correction, much as we do today. Our two main references, Georgius Agricola (1494 - 1555) and Lazarus Ercker (1530 - 1594), belong into the ranks of the fathers of chemistry, but also physics, engineering and metallurgy.

            We will visit several places in which physical principles are used to mine and process the ore. This includes sites in which fire mining was used, as well as processing sites, such as water-driven Pochwerke (wooden stamps to break the ore into little pieces) as well as water-driven hammers. Interesting are also the systems of ditches, ponds, adits which have been constructed in the 15th and 16th century for the purpose of managing water in mines – both to get it out as well as make it usable as driving force. We will witness elaborate water systems in which the potential energy of the water is used in multiple waterwheels above as well as under the ground.


Siebenschlehener Pochwerk (Schneeberg) und Grüner Graben (Pobershau)


            One example may be the wet tin wash in Altenberg, which is the only large and complex ore wash of the time existent in Europe at this time. The ore was crushed and mixed with water. A system of inclined shaking boards would use a gradient of flow speed in the mixtures in order to separate the ore from the rock.


Transmission mechanisms in the Nass-Pochwerk Altenberg


            Other very interesting encounters include effects related to the excursions into the mines themselves, such as cloud formation behind a descending elevator in the shaft, temperature changes in the deep, water flow in the mines, surveying techniques, the use of explosives and others. We will encounter remarkable engineering solutions, not only from the 16th century, but also from later times.


Models of Mining engineering solutions, Bergakademie Freiberg


      It is worth mentioning that Marie and Pierre Curie discovered Radium in Jachymov (Johannisthal), in uranium pitchblende from the local mountains.


Psychrometers, anemometers and gas probe tubes for monitoring atmosphere underground


Back to Syllabus


The views and opinions expressed in this page are strictly those of the page author. The contents of this page have not been reviewed or approved by the University of Minnesota.