SCIENCE

UVA Discovers Hidden Chemistry Lab Thomas Jefferson Designed

"This may be the oldest intact example of early chemical education in this country."

Construction workers at the University of Virginia have discovered a hidden chemistry laboratory that school officials say is likely linked to former President Thomas Jefferson.

Renovations to the Rotunda, a UVA building Jefferson designed in the 1820s, revealed a chemical hearth had been hidden behind a wall, according to the university. Workers uncovered the room on Monday.

Officials say the hearth may have been designed for John Emmet, the school's first professor of natural history, to use along with a nearby classroom.

"This may be the oldest intact example of early chemical education in this country," Brian Hogg, the university's senior historic preservation planner, said in a news release.

The hearth discovered in the Rotunda at the University of Virginia.
The hearth discovered in the Rotunda at the University of Virginia.

Science students used the five workspaces in the primitive lab setting to perform chemical experiments, the release said. Like a modern lab, the hearth contained heat sources and a ventilation system to remove fumes.

The hearth was walled off in 1850 and survived a major fire that destroyed a large portion of the building in 1895, according to the university.

Once the renovations are complete, the school said, the hearth will become part of a permanent display.

The hearth discovered in the Rotunda at the University of Virginia.
The hearth discovered in the Rotunda at the University of Virginia.

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