The Cavendish Laboratory at Cambridge has had more than its fair share of major scientific discoveries. In this old building (which the Laboratory no longer occupies) worked James Clerk Maxwell, Lord Rayleigh, J. J. Thomson, Ernest Rutherford, Lawrence Bragg, James Watson, and Francis Crick, among others. Their discoveries included the electron, the neutron, and the structure of DNA. I’ve always wondered: did the genius ooze into the walls? Would I become a better scientist if I could sleep a night inside the old Cavendish building? Or would I see ghosts performing experiments?
The Cavendish opened on 16th June 1874, receiving a write-up in the (then new) journal Nature (10: 139–142, 25 June). A description by William Garnett is also available here. The inscription “Magna opera Domini exquisita in omnes voluntates ejus” was placed over the doors. This is taken from Psalm 110:2 in the Clementine Vulgate (Psalm 111:2 in Protestant Bibles). The English version, “The works of the Lord are great, sought out of all them that have pleasure therein,” was placed over the doors of the Laboratory’s new building.
In 1882 the Cavendish accepted women on equal terms with men, although the University itself did not award degrees to women until 1948. Eleanor Sidgwick was the first woman to work at the Cavendish (1880–1882). Elsa Neumann joined in 1899, and Katharine Burr Blodgett in 1924.