Walking tour shows campus through the accomplishments of Michelson and Morley

You may have trekked all over campus going to and from classes and heading in and out of meetings, but Alan Rocke, Bourne Professor of History and acting chair in the Department of History, has a new route that will show you campus in a way you’ve never seen it before—and you’ll probably even learn something new.

This week, the Society for the History of Technology, the History of Science Society and the Society for Social Studies of Science will all head to Cleveland for their annual conferences. More than 2,000 historians of science and technology will be in the city Nov. 3-6, with many taking part in optional tours of Case Western Reserve University.

In preparation for their visit, Rocke prepared a walking tour of campus that highlights the contributions of Albert Michelson, professor of physics at the Case School of Applied Science from 1882 to 1889, and Edward Morley, professor of chemistry at Western Reserve University from 1869 to 1906.

Michelson and Morley are best known for their experiment that provided decisive empirical evidence for the future theory of relativity. Michelson won the first science Nobel Prize awarded to an American in 1907; Morley was nominated several times for his work on the atomic weight of oxygen.

“At Case Western Reserve, we have many Nobelists who have been associated with the university, but this has to be one of the most significant scientific events that has happened here,” Rocke said. “Some experts have long said that this is the most famous scientific experiment ever.”

Want to take a walk on the bright side? Take the historical walking tour and see the sights of campus, including historical markers and the former site of the Michelson-Morley experiment. Download the map and follow Rocke’s steps, outlined below with additional historical details.

Start at 1. Adelbert Hall, Victorian polychrome built in 1882 as the principal classroom and administration building of Western Reserve University (now Case Western Reserve University). The ground floor entrance off Adelbert Road has a National Historic Chemical Landmark plaque commemorating Morley’s groundbreaking determination of the atomic weight of oxygen (1895).  Morley’s lab occupied the basement of the building.

Proceed further down Adelbert Road to the 2. Ohio Historical Society historical marker in front of DeGrace Hall, then to the 3. site of the Michelson-Morley experiment, Adelbert Dormitory, later renamed Pierce Hall. It was built in 1882 and demolished in 1962. The experiment was performed in the basement of this Western Reserve University building, after the main Case building (no longer existent) was damaged by fire. The site is now occupied by the northwest portion of the Kent Hale Smith building.

View the 4. Morley exhibit case in the lobby of Schmitt Auditorium, then proceed to 5. Clapp Hall lobby, where there are busts of Michelson and Morley, a plaque and a small model of the interferometer. A larger model, with additional historical exhibits listed on the American Physical Society Register of Historic Sites, is in the east ground floor lobby of 6. Rockefeller Physics Building (1905).

Between Schmitt and Rockefeller is the neo-Gothic 7. Edward W. Morley Building, the home of the Chemistry Department after its construction in 1910. Like Adelbert Hall, it is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, though it is now unoccupied.

By an intersection of walkways on the Case Quad—south of Adelbert Hall, southwest of Millis and northwest of Rockefeller—are the 8. Newton apple tree and the Michelson-Morley plaque. The tree was grafted (i.e., cloned) from the old apple tree outside Woolsthorpe Manor in Lincolnshire, which Newton spoke about in his old age; National Sciences Foundation Director Arden Bement donated it to CWRU in 2004. The plaque was installed on a boulder in 1952 to commemorate the centennial of Michelson’s birth.

Also on the Case Quad, in front of Yost Hall, is the 9. Michelson-Morley Fountain (1973), whose undulating water symbolizes ether waves.

Finally, on the occasion of the Michelson-Morley Centennial Celebration in 1987, a light sculpture titled 10. “Light Path Crossing” by artist Dale Eldred was installed on the roof of Crawford Hall. It is a large diffraction grating that exhibits wonderful colors from various directions at various times of day, but is not easily visible from the Case Quad.