The Museum of the History of Physics and Mathematics consists of two sections: the physics section; and the mathematics, mechanics and astronomy section.
The exhibition of the physics section was created and opened in 2001 to mark the 100th anniversary of the foundation of St Petersburg University Institute of Physics. For outstanding achievements, the institute was given the name of the world renowned theoretical physicist Vladimir Fock by Order of the Rector of the University No 549 dated 25 May 2001.
The exhibition displays materials about the history of the stages of development of physics and mathematics at the University. …The exhibition is a synopsis of the lives of the most prominent Russian scientists who created scientific schools in almost every field of modern physics. The Museum also provides information on the Institute of Physics at the start of the 21st century.
The exhibition of the mathematics, mechanics, and astronomy section displays models of mechanisms that have been cherished by the staff of the Department of Theoretical and Applied Mechanics of the Mathematics and Mechanics Faculty at St Petersburg University. These models were inherited by the Department of Theoretical and Applied Mechanics from the Cabinet of Practical Mechanics that had been founded in 1865 under the supervision of privat-docent (later professor) Mikhail Okatov. Custodians of the Cabinet were young graduates of the University who later became famous Russian and international scientists. Among them there were Aleksandr Lyapunov, Ivan Meshchersky, Gury Kolosov, Evgenii Nikolai, Nikoloz (Niko) Muskhelishvili and others.
In the second half of the 19th century teaching mechanics in universities was considered impossible without showing students mechanisms and visual aids. The Cabinet had models of mechanisms that could demonstrate different types of motion: rotation, rectilinear, as well as conversion of motion.
The first wooden models were supposedly made in 1833 in the artillery technical school on commission from the University. Other wooden models were created in the workshop of the Cabinet of Practical Mechanics. It should be mentioned that some of the models were made by an eminent master, the University mechanical engineer Franzen.
The Cabinet of Practical Mechanics is also famous for the models that were made by the academician Pafnuty Chebyshev or from his drawings.
A large part of the metal models on display in the Cabinet of Practical Mechanics are those from the collection of Franz Reuleaux, a renowned German mechanical engineer, professor of Berlin Royal Technical Academy. More than 300 out of 800 models that he designed were made in Berlin at the factory of Gustav Voigt (end of the 19th century). They were sold to many universities around the world for educational and scientific purposes. Today, the collection of those mechanisms is called the collection of Reuleaux-Voigt. The catalogue of kinematic models that were made by Voigt survived to the present days. The catalogue consists of two parts. The first part is both lettered and numbered: letters indicate the category of a mechanism, whereas numbers show a certain variation of a category. The second part of the catalogue is numbered. In the University’s collection there are 40 historical models of Reuleaux-Voigt. Models by Reuleaux are now becoming more and more well-known thanks to being popularised on the websites of different technical universities around the world such as Cornell University (the USA).
Also, the collection of models of mechanisms of the Cabinet of Practical Mechanics (late 19th to early 20th century) includes models that were made in Switzerland and Paris as well as kinematic models from the catalogue of M Shilling (1903–1911).
In the 20th century the collection continued to grow. The Museum keeps collecting different exhibits, for example mechanisms that were found in department rooms and former laboratories of the institutes of the Faculty of Physics and the Mathematics and Mechanics
Faculty. These include: the Smirnov Scientific Research Institute in Mathematics and
Mechanics; the Sobolev Astronomical Institute; and the Institute of Information Technology. The collection has a great historical and cultural value. It helps student get acquainted with the main milestones of the development of physics, mathematics, mechanics and astronomy.