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Mechanical optical Laboratory

Maintenance, restoration and protection of historical scientific instruments asset

 The patrimony of an institute of rank like INGV still counts specimens that refer everyone, without a hierarchical level, to a historical view, to challenging and brilliant innovations. The UF1 Functional Unit in Rome2 offered a consistent response both to the norms (art.2 DL n.137 / 2002 and ss. Mm.) And to the legislative address directly to the ’holders’ bodies (Legislative Decree 42 of January 22, 2004), in order to preserve from the degradation and destruction (Art. 20, Art. 20) culturally recognized scientific goods, finally, as objects "a place of valuable testimony worthy of Civilization".

Thus the idea of ​​the Internal Restoration Laboratory was born, especially appreciated by the representatives of the Scientific Council of the ANV (October 23, 2015), in order to save the historical-scientific institutional instrument by implementing its value.
Our concept of restoration, in the domain of conservation, is not interpretative (Eugène Emmanuel Viollet-le-Duc), it is not that of the antiirestauration movement (John Ruskin) but it is the philological one conceived by Camillo Boito (1836-1914) , a Roman architect, the older brother of the musician Arrigo: that is, "the recognizability of the intervention; respect for added additions but only those with artistic value; the protection of the signs of time ". Requirements made by current national culture legislation with a delay to just over ... over a hundred years! The Laboratory retrieves the material as well as the historical image of the good. Then the cimelio becomes a "semioforo", a bearer of meanings. The Laboratory works in tune with that Italian culture, which has always been characterized by a strong interpretation of what is original and what is not.


What has been restored?

The workshop began with the restoration of some of the most beautiful historical instruments of the ANV held at the Observatory Geofisico de L’Aquila, between the structures of the Castello Cinquecentesco and heavily damaged by the earthquake of 2009. At first the remarkable and rare German magnetometer Askania (No. 5116543) of 1940, called Schmidt Theodolite by the name of the designer Prof. Adolph Schmidt, director of the Magnetic Observatory of Potsdam (Germany). Donato already used to the UN for the post-World War II Reconstruction Project, the so-called Marshall Plan, the splendid instrument was carried out in L’Aquila just after the opening of the Observatory and until 1976 absolute values ​​of the Earth’s magnetic field. Its use was very demanding, as the complete process took about three and a half hours of intervention. The restoration took place in ten months of work, it is the first complete restoration. The instrument was heavily damaged by fall and for long periods under the rubble; In addition, there have been various interventions of previous dubious maintenance, unknown and non-datable. The threaded greenhouse helmet housed in the twist head was missing. Now, thanks to the technical drawings of that time, it was rebuilt in the INGV Mechanical Workshop. The laboratory reported the magnetometer to its initial beauty but had to retain the permanent deformation suffered by a deviating magnet arm arm. During the restoration, the opportunity was not only to study mechanically theodolite but also to understand its execution techniques, comparing it with the data of some of the homonymous instruments of the time, much less complex.

At the end of March 2016, the Cassette of the Oscillations (No. 5116856) of 1940, another splendid instrument working tandem and completion with Schmidt theodolite, came to the rest, recovering the intensity of the horizontal component of the Earth’s magnetic field. The conservative intervention, over 300 hours worked, involved the removal of deposits and concretions and the decay of degradation through passive protection on all materials. No missing magnetic components have been found at this date. The two mercury thermometers supplied are also temporarily replaced by similar, but not original, specimens. The overall evaluation of the two previous instruments, around 1960, was around 20 million lire!

Another restored instrument is the Askania small terrestrial inductor (No. 5010179), part of the scientific instrument set called "Integrated Magnetic Device D-H-I Portable Model" purchased by the National Geophysical Institute in 1951 for 2,448,229 liras. Started in October 2015, the restoration took place in three months of work. Also for this ingenious inclinometer this is the first complete restoration. He was deeply disrupted by the fall as far as his details were concerned. The meticulous restoration work, made almost entirely by hand, was favored by the simple architecture of all the constituent elements of the instrument, easily disassembled and by the low presence on it of previous irreversible tampering.


The Magnetic Teodolite Ruska (No. 3937) is currently under construction in 1950, built in Houston (Texas), more compact than the large and complex Schmidt.


On the waiting list is a heavily damaged Grenet declinometer, used in the study of the micro-pulses of the Earth’s magnetic field, rapid changes from a few minutes to some fraction of a second. Among others, there is an important portable spatial magnetometer, called Scout Scale, and then other instruments, including the integrated DHZ Magnetic Device for photographic recording of the temporal variations of the magnetic field: that is the all-gray support desk accommodating three instruments and connected to a recorder lying on the first floor of our headquarters building, which has been plastered by the years, in the lobby next to the windows.


The lab produces, with each input tool, a synthetic and updateable historical-patrimonial entry-card according to the General Catalog of Cultural Heritage standards: each restoration is accompanied by the relevant photographic documentation (before-during-after) or by a Power Point presentation on how to perform the various types of degradation.

Askania earth inducer.
Left left at Laboratory, right to restoration completed.


Instrumentation restored or conserved

Nr.Ser Instrument Description Location Conditions Notes Image
  Psicrometro Misura dell’umidità ambientale L’Aquila Conservato Completo di accessori, senza cassetta
  Induttore terrestre Ruska da osservatorio Misura della inclinazione L’Aquila Conservato Completo di accessori, senza cassetta
  Induttore terrestre Askania da campagna Misura della inclinazione L’Aquila Restaurato Senza accessori, senza cassetta
  Teodolite Askania (Schmidt) Misura della componente H L’Aquila Restaurato Senza accessori, senza cassetta
  Cassetta delle oscillazioni Askania Misura della declinazione L’Aquila Restaurato Senza accessori, senza cassetta
  Magnetometro verticale Askania Misura della componente Z L’Aquila Conservato Incompleto, senza cassetta
  Rullo sismico con carta fotosensibile Registrazione delle oscillazioni sismiche L’Aquila Conservato Incompleto, senza cassetta
  Vibrografo Registrazioni di vibrazioni strutturali L’Aquila Conservato Incompleto, senza cassetta
Tabella strumentazione restaurata o in conservazione

Bibliographic sources


Publication Series A No. 25 of the INSTITUTE ROYAL MÉTÉOROLOGIQUE DE BELGIQUE entitled: "Sur la mesure absolue de l’affaires horizontale du champ magnétique terre au moyen dut héodolite de Ad. SCHMIDT "by Edm. LAHAYE and A. DE VUYST of 1961. It presents, in addition to the descriptions of the operation of the instruments, theodolite and oscillation cassette, also some of their original photographs.


HANDBUCH DER EXPERIMENTALPHIYSIK edited by AKADEMISCHE VERLAGSGESELLSCHAFT M.B.H. LEIPZIG, in 1928, first volume, in the chapter ’Instrumente und Meßmethoden’ presents descriptions and various original technical drawings of the theodolite prototype and the photo of his designer Prof. Adolph Schmidt at work on his instrument.

TWO CENTURIES OF GEOMAGNETIC INSTRUMENTS IN ITALY (1740-1971) by M.Basso Ricci, L. Cafarella, A. Meloni and P. Tucci National Institute of Geophysics, 1997.



Interview of Japanese newspaper Asahi Shimbun on January 18, 2011.


The laboratory is undergoing reorganization and transfer to the Aquila office.

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