Buys Ballot Laboratorium

In 1987 Utrecht astronomy (“vakgroep Sterrekunde”) moved from Sterrewacht Sonnenborgh to the top floor of the “Laboratorium voor Experimentele Fysica” in De Uithof, a seven-floor 1970s concrete monstrosity on the campus of Utrecht University just East of the city.

On my instigation this building was renamed “Buys Ballot Laboratorium” after C.H.D. Buys Ballot, a physicist who in 1863 had started the Utrecht astronomical observatory together with the Dutch institute for meteorology at Zonnenburg.  Actually, I proposed to call it “building” rather than “laboratory” since there was not much experimental physics anymore at that time already; most rooms held just desks with X-terminals or then new personal computers (especially Atari-STs).  The director of the “Subfaculteit Natuur- en Sterrenkunde” accepted the renaming but stuck to “laboratory” although his own group in flame spectroscopy was also gone (the astronomers taking its floor).

Eventually, in 2011, the building was finally renamed to “Buys Ballot building” taking off the “Laboratory”, but already in 2000 I had suggested a much more appropriate name.  Presently there is no astronomy and almost no physics anymore in this building.  Only the Institute for Marine and Atmospheric Research still warrants naming the building after Buys Ballot. 

It remains an monstrosity despite endless renovations.  Some of these, including asbestos removal, tried and still try to remedy its ill fame of sick building.  I wonder whether the persistent but ill-diagnosed breathing problem I developed during my later decades there came from my daily climbing its entire nonventilated stairwell as deep-breathing exercise.