The Formula to See Teylers Museum

Featured picture with instruments in Teylers Museum

The overseas move negotiated, it is time to explore and see our new surroundings. So, with the weather being dry (finally), I decided to go to the Netherlands’ oldest museum: Teylers in Haarlem.

The museum is located along ‘het Spaarne’, one of the city’s canals and parking is just around the corner at the Appelgaarde underground parking lot.

Teylers Daylight Premises

The building is original and well maintained. The floors are inlaid marble with high, alcove ceilings. I pick up a map, the handy electronic device that contains multi-lingual descriptions of the items, and my Lorentz experience bracelet.

Just as I think that it is quite dark inside, I notice in the smart little guide that the museum is a ‘daylight’ premises. They try and balance the modern and practical with the original and historical, only switching the lights on during business hours when needed.

This museum was once a working laboratory and it acquired most of its exhibits as part of their studies. The items were to be used and studied. Not just by those working within its wall but they were also kept as a library or reference to others who could not afford to study it otherwise. As it says on one of the information plaques inside: the Wikipedia of its time.

A Working Lab and Place of Study

Instruments to measure and study electric charges, currents and storage.
Instruments at Teylers Museum to measure and study electric charges, currents, and storage.

A true statement because the museum houses a wide variety of items. The first space is dedicated to fossils. They ‘grow’ along the way until we get to our ancestors’ times and related bones.

To me, the fun part of the collection starts in the third space, those with the instruments. Though the cashier had mentioned them, I don’t fully grasp it until I start to truly look around. A big contraption with copper balls stands in the middle. I’m going to see a copy of it in action! Around it, glass displays are jam-packed with all sorts of mechanical-looking items. All instruments invented to measure or guide electricity and currents.

The initial synthesizer made up of spools of wire set on a board measuring a meter by a meter was developed to prove that sounds ‘mix’. A display, from a private collection donated to the museum, with a selection of telegraph cables. These were used to sink to the bottom of the Atlantic to connect Europe to North America.

Whether it is the gleaming copper, all the wires, knots, bolts, and intricately made connectors, here you feel what this place must have been, a workplace. The place that was to help spread knowledge and to help further it by studying and developing. It is why it came to be with the help and wealth of Pieter Teyler who helped set it up and buy a lot of items in the 18th century.

The Original Oval Room

The oval room is as it once was, authentic, the entire interior including the cabinets and their contents, as it was from the very start. In the centre is a long cabinet with different types of rocks and crystals, and looking up you see the second floor on an open balcony.

The next room that leads from it is dedicated to paintings. Not so much for simple enjoyment but for study purposes which is why there are so many and in different techniques. The second room of paintings was more for enjoyment and to that end has an oval seating in the very centre. There are so many different styles and brushstrokes to be admired here. And it’s fun to see them side by side. Winter wonderlands that seem to have a depth from different angles. A painting that tells of difficult times after wars and one about handing out soup to the poor or the storm-swept landscape.

This museum ‘does what it says on the tin’ – it clearly was a place intended for study; to explore and develop different ideas and solutions.

Colourful art by elementary students at Teylers Museum
Colourful art by elementary students at Teylers Museum

Lorentz’ Formula

I have a quick lunch in the modern and largely glass addition with its colourful art by students from several elementary schools. But then it’s time for the Lorentz formula and the additional reason to draw me here today. To experience the ‘theatrical tour in the reconstructed laboratory and study of physicist Hendrik Antoon Lorentz’. This really is an interesting and fun experience!

Einstein’s Idol

The experience can be booked online or if it’s just you and a friend, you may still be able to join. You get taken to the laboratory by two research assistants. They are still in their probationary period and through the use of a formula, tell you about Lorentz, and his connection to Teylers. Little did I know that he was the Einstein of the Netherlands. Better yet, he was someone Einstein looked up. Apparently Lorentz promised Einstein he’d look over his relativity theory to see if it made sense.

The performance is a 50-minute experience that tells Lorentz’s life story and makes history AND physics fun with a made-up formula to guide us through both.

Historical map of Afsluitdijk in Lorentz study at Teylers Museum
Historical map of Afsluitdijk in Lorentz study at Teylers Museum

Lorentz + floods + calculations =The Afsluitdijk

His final contribution to the Netherlands was his work on a dyke: the Afsluitdijk. Not the smallest of feats which he did for free (for over 8 years!). This man-made project was to protect the country from flooding at high tides or seasonal bad weather. To do so, Lorentz developed calculations for water heights, currents, flows, and how they interact. It resulted in the bend in the long since finished dyke and locks. It also meant he changed the intended connection at Piaam to the more northerly Zurich.
The idea really was to do this project and then get back to work but after a short sickbed, he died not long after finalizing the design.

In the study, where he did most of his calculation, there are replicas of the letter Einstein sent him. There’s a photograph with the brainpower of their time: Lorentz, Einstein, Mdm Curie and many others. Sixteen of them won a Nobel Prize, Lorentz being one of them. And a map with the Afsluitdijk on it.

Out with A Bang at Teylers Formula

I thoroughly enjoyed this fast-paced and entertaining way of learning about this place and one of its main contributors. It literally finishes with a bang when you get to see a replica of the Electriseermachine in action, to tie the story back to the museum itself.

I left enthused and thought of who of my new friends and acquaintances here to recommend it to but then it hit me, would they understand Dutch? Of course not. So, I double-checked with the museum staff. Unfortunately, the Formula is only performed in Dutch.
Such a shame.
Bar the English summary of the ‘Lorentz Formulae’ there is no English version of it.  To me, this is a shoo-in for expanding knowledge as it was intended by Teylers and those who worked here. Even if it’d be only once a day during the weekend.

Does Teylers get my recommendation

A most definite yes, even if I’d entirely skip the first room. I had a great time and can’t wait to bring the kids.

I round off my day by strolling through the center of Haarlem where I happen on a police training with horses on the Grote Markt. Watching it, on a terrace with a cup of coffee and a stack of leaflets from the Tourist Information for future reference, was well worth it.

What would you recommend I go see or do here in Haarlem? Would you be interested in seeing the Formulae in English?


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