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180-Degree Flight Tube from A. O. Nier Mass Spectrometer

  • 1938–1940
  • 25.5 in. H x 22 in. W
    Glass, metal
  • On display in Making Modernity
  • Gift of the Family of Alfred Nier
  • IG98:09.001


A. O. Nier was an American physicist who specialized in mass spectroscopy and the study of uranium. He was involved in the Manhattan Project, mainly in the design of the spectrographs used by the scientists creating the atomic bomb. After World War II, Nier focused his research on space science and the noble gases, designing the miniature mass spectrometers used on the Viking Lander spacecrafts to sample and measure the atmosphere of Mars.

A mass spectrometer is an instrument used to determine the mass of the molecules found in an unknown sample. The sample is ionized and then sent through a number of electric and magnetic fields, which are then read by an electronic detector that arranges the masses into a visible spectrum.

First Person: Alfred O.C. Nier

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Of Related Interest

Arnold O. Beckman

CHF’s Beckman Center for the History of Chemistry was started with a generous grant from the Arnold and Mabel Beckman Foundation in 1987.



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