Past events

Exhibition The mountain, laboratory of savants, at the Musée d'histoire des sciences de Genève, 06.40.22 - 26.02.23

What attracts a scientist to the peculiar world of the mountains? Why attempt to climb the highest peaks when you are a scientist? What measurements and experiments can be done there? 

The exhibition explores the link, woven since the 18th century, particularly from Geneva, between mountains and humans, to better understand the mechanisms that govern our world.

This taming of a hostile and dangerous world was based on observations and accounts of pioneers as early as the 17th century, but it was the Enlightenment that opened the doors to the exploration of "glacières" and high altitudes, and more particularly of the highest European summit, Mont Blanc. The world of mountains became fashionable. Everyone was interested in collecting rocks, crystals and other curiosities, even trying to follow in the footsteps of the scholar Horace Bénédict de Saussure, sometimes forgetting his scientific purpose to focus on the sporting feat. The measurements taken have become classics of science and have contributed to the development of explanatory models for various phenomena, from the study of mountain folding to the understanding of the physics of the atmosphere. This adventure of more than two centuries still continues today, the alpine ecosystem remaining a precious laboratory for understanding climate change.

Science on the Summit in the Journal of Alpine Research

Why climb on the summit of a mountain? In this new publication we show that, before the rise of alpinism in the 19th century, the measurement of heights with a barometer and travel narratives provided an incentive for travelers to break off from the beaten track.

Ion Mihailescu, Simon Dumas Primbault, Jérôme Baudry, "Science on the Summit: Exploring Scientific Tourism Through the Lens of Eighteenth Century Mountain Ascents", Journal of Alpine Research, 110-1, 2022.

Saturday 3 and Sunday 4 September 2022, The Ascent of Mont Buet: In the Footsteps of Genevan Savants from the 18th century

A two-day hike in Haute-Savoie (FR) with researchers from the Laboratory for the History of Science and Technology of EPFL. (Postponed to September 10 and 11 in case of bad weather)

We invite you to follow in the footsteps of Genevan savants by re-enacting this adventure during a two-day hike, in the company of researchers from the Laboratory for the History of Science and Technology of EPFL. During the walk, the historians will evoke in several key points of the route these first scientific expeditions in the mountains, the experiments carried out on the slopes of Mont Buet, the stories and images brought back from these ascents, as well as the beginnings of tourism in the Chamonix valley, favored by the scholarly activity.


Exhibition The peak that hides the mountain at the Café littéraire, Vevey, 01.05.2022 - 31.08.2022

A selection of photos and drawings from the exhibition The peak that hides the mountain is visible at the Café littéraire in Vevey until the end of July. The exhibition includes several panels that intertwine Olga Cafiero's photographs and Pascale Favre's drawings and paintings. Between sensitive approach and scientific measures, between memory and present time, this exhibition builds the traces of a collective experience.

Don't hesitate to ask for your brochure!

Two events related to the exhibition will take place at the Café littéraire, Vevey :

The peak that hides the mountain in L'Alpe

We are very happy to see our article published in the last issue of the magnificent magazine L'Alpe (n°97) dedicated to the Rhône! We talk about the Mont Buet, the Genevan scientific expeditions to the summit in the 1770s, and our attempts to reconstruct them. Drawings by Pascale Favre and photographs by Olga Cafiero are reproduced and highlighted thanks to the famous graphic design of the magazine.

More detail:

Friday 3 June 2022, 9pm, "Les gens #1", listening and discussion around the sound piece by Joell Nicolas at Café littéraire, Vevey

As part of the exhibition The peak that hides the mountain currently on view at the Café littéraire in Vevey, Joell Nicolas will present and play the sound piece she created for the exhibition based on recordings made during the expedition. Entitled "Les gens #1", this piece is a free translation of the soundscapes encountered during the ascent of Mont Buet.

Another event in connection with the exhibition will take place at the Café littéraire, Vevey: on Saturday, May 21 at 5 pm, come and play with Nicolas Nova his role-playing game Chamonix-Sentinelles, which raises awareness of the ecological issue in the mountains.

Saturday 21 May 2022, 5pm, Chamonix-Sentinelles at Café littéraire, Vevey

In the context of the project The peak that hides the mountain of LHST (EPFL), Nicolas Nova (HEAD, Geneva) will come to present his role-playing game Chamonix-Sentinelles at the Café littéraire in Vevey, on Saturday, May 21, from 5:00 to 7:00 pm. Nicolas will present this game as a playful introduction to social, political, and environmental issues in the Chamonix valley. The afternoon will allow volunteers to test the game!

Another event related to the exhibition will take place at the Café littéraire, Vevey: on Friday June 3rd at 9pm, come and listen to and discuss the sound piece "Les gens #1" created by Joell Nicolas for the exhibition.

Excerpt from the website:
This research-creation project aims to create a role-playing manual, potentially marketable, that will allow participants to understand and anticipate the challenges of adapting to environmental crises via the study of the Chamonix valley (the project can be adapted to other situations and contexts). 

At the intersection of design fiction, visual communication, and game & media design, this game will address in an innovative way the theme of ecological transition by proposing a participatory and prospective approach to projecting the lifestyles of tomorrow.

More information on the project:

Exhibition The peak that hides the mountain at the Rolex Learning Center, EPFL, 16.12.21 - 10.04.22

From 16 December 2021 to 10 April 2022, the hall of the EPFL's Rolex Learning Center will host the exhibition The summit that hides the mountain. Bring your health pass and an ID card to enter the exhibition space and see the large-scale reproductions of Olga Cafiero and Pascale Favre's works, as well as listen to Joell Nicolas' sound piece while contemplating an orientation table created especially for the event.

Wednesday 6 April 2022, 12h15-13h15 : LUNCHenPHILO "Is nature a laboratory like any other?"

One Wednesday a month at noon, a philosopher is invited on the EPFL campus for a discussion around a theme and a meal offered to the registered participants. On Wednesday April 6, in connection with the exhibition and the archive on Mont Buet, come and discuss nature as a scientific laboratory!

  • According to the expression coined by 18th century scientists, can nature be a laboratory for science?
  • Is the domestication of the environment necessary for the practice of science?
  • How to guarantee the ethical and environmental conditions for the practice of science in the mountains?

During the 18th century, the first alpine expeditions were led by scientists wishing to document the physics of the atmosphere, the history of the Earth or the fauna and flora of this still wild environment. Today, many geological, glaciological, botanical or climatic studies take the slopes of the Alps as the field of their practice.

However, from an epistemological point of view, the conditions for scientific practice are not always guaranteed at high altitude. How, then, can we make the mountains an extension of the laboratory? But this question also brings the debate to a moral level because if, throughout history, nature has become a laboratory for science, this has often been done by domesticating the environment to the detriment of wild life...


March 29th 2022: Désalpe of the exhibiton "The peak that hides the mountain"

The Laboratory for the History of Science and Technology and the Cultural Department of the College of Humanities at EPFL are pleased to invite you to the closing of the exhibition "The peak that hides the mountain" at the Rolex Learning Center, on Tuesday 29 March from 6 pm.

As the sanitary measures have recently been lifted, it will be more of a désalpe than a vernissage, while waiting to meet you at the Café littéraire in Vevey and at the Musée d'histoire des sciences in Geneva for the continuation of this travelling exhibition and the events dedicated to it.

Resulting from nearly two years of historical research and expeditions on the slopes of Mont Buet in the company of artists, this exhibition retraces the beginnings of scientific exploration of the Alps by Genevan scientists at the end of the 18th century.

After a brief presentation of the project and its various participants, an alpine snack will allow you to climb the exhibition with us on the slopes of the Rolex Learning Center.

We look forward to serving as your guides on this occasion!

Experimenting with history: Understanding past knowledge through practice on the field

For the past two decades, historians of science and knowledge have undertaken to put the archive into practice by replicating scientific instruments, reenacting experiments, or reproducing expeditions. Like the 19th-century geographers who took their discipline out of the cabinet and into the field, this "open-air history" attempts to reproduce the objects and practices traditionally found in written sources in order to shed light on gestures and bodies, as well as on the use of instruments and materials in the long history of knowledge. Beyond a somewhat nostalgic "historical reconstruction", the practice of "experimental history" requires us to be constantly alert to approximations, translations, and anachronisms. What new results does such an approach allow? How is it implemented? What are the pedagogical virtues for the teaching and public communication of history?

A public conference given at the Société vaudoise des sciences naturelles by Simon Dumas Primbault, Ion Mihailescu and Jérôme Baudry.