The story that tells the truth is story number 2. This VU heritage object is a Haldane gas analyser.
1 Gattefossé still
The art of distillation is very old, dating back to the pre-Christian era. By around 1200 BCE, the Mesopotamians had already developed simple stills that were used to produce perfumes as well as to extract essences from flowers and plants. In the first centuries of the Common Era, there is evidence that weak spirits were already being distilled in the region of modern-day India and Pakistan. It was only from the 10th century onwards, however, that this process was perfected for alcohol in China. From there, the method spread far and wide across the Eurasian continent. Aside from the production of fragrances and alcoholic beverages, stills were also used for medical purposes.
This still was developed by the French chemist René Maurice Gattefossé (1881–1950), specifically for use in aromatherapy. Gattefossé studied the medical effects of aromatic essential oils. The University of Lyon presented the still to VU Amsterdam in 1938. At VU, it was only ever used for teaching demonstrations, never for aromatherapy.
2 Haldane gas analyser
John Scott Haldane (1860–1936) was a Scottish physician and physiologist who developed various methods to study human respiration, making important contributions to our understanding of how breathing is regulated within the body. He and his family were the first guinea pigs for much of his research. Haldane invented the gas mask and came up with the idea of having mineworkers take a canary down into the shaft. If the bird keeled over, it signalled a problem with the air in the mine, which meant that the workers had to get out.
This object is a pared-down version of Haldane's gas analyser, intended for instructional purposes and used to measure the ratio of oxygen to carbon dioxide in expired air. It was used in medical lectures at VU Amsterdam in the mid-1950s.
3 Huber chromatograph
The history of chromatography dates back to the turn of the 20th century, when the Russian scientist Mikhail Semyonovich Tsvet used calcium in an attempt to isolate naturally occurring pigments in plants. This technique enabled him to dissolve mixtures of various substances into their component parts, including plant pigments.
J.F.K. Huber (1925–2000) developed a new type of chromatograph in 1961, on the basis of a model devised by A.J.P. Martin in 1941 that used liquid. Huber's version was many times more efficient. We nowadays use gas to isolate substances, while there is hardly an episode of Crime Scene Investigation that does not feature gas chromatography.
The device displayed is a Huber-model chromatograph that was used by scientists at VU Amsterdam up until the early 1970s for research on food colourants.
With thanks to Gaby den Held