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enGAUGEing Physics

Invention Acquired by Smithsonian

Article Originally published in the June 2006 issue of CLASnotes.

Professor Emeritus Dwight Adams and the Straty-Adams GaugeProfessor Emeritus Dwight
Adams and the
Straty-Adams Gauge

The National Museum of American History at The Smithsonian Institution is now the owner of a collection of pressure gauges invented by Professor Emeritus of Physics Dwight Adams and his first graduate student at UF, Gerald Straty.

The Straty-Adams gauge, which paved the way for the world’s official low temperature scale, was created in 1965 by Adams and Straty for studying the fundamental properties of liquid and solid helium-3. Adams and another graduate student, Richard Scribner, later used the gauge to study the helium-3 melting pressure. “We observed that the resolution of the gauge was much greater than that of any thermometer available and proposed this method for thermometry,” says Adams.

Scientists worldwide now use the gauge to measure temperatures as low as 458 degrees below Fahrenheit. It was the only instrument involved in the 1996 Nobel Prize winning project on the discovery of superfluidity in liquid helium-3 by David M. Lee, Douglas D. Osheroff and Robert C. Richardson. In 2005, the American Physical Society presented Adams the Keithley Award in recognition of his pioneering efforts in developing the gauge.

When Paul Forman, curator of the Division of Medicine and Science at the National Museum of American History, first learned in 2003 about the role the Straty-Adams gauge played in extending the temperature scale, he contacted Adams requesting the prototype of the gauge for inclusion in a collection on the production of lower temperatures. However, the exhibit has now been put on hold as the museum prepares to close this fall for renovations, not to reopen until late 2008.

“Just at the moment most of our attention is directed toward preparations to keep objects in our collections safe and sound,” says Forman. “As we are a museum of record and research, and see our main responsibility as preserving historically significant artifacts, that is how it should be. During this interim, however, we will continue to document and describe our artifacts, and to that end we are looking forward to a visit from Dwight in the autumn, when we will videotape his explications of the features and functioning of the several versions of the gauge he has given us.”

Forman says he also plans to post photographs and descriptions of the collection of gauges Adams recently sent him online at



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Leilanie Merrill

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