Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 36.djvu/126

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116
THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

Dr. Le Conte did not possess the wealth, of instrumental appliances needed for the development of his unique discovery, but his priority was gracefully proclaimed by Tyndall in the now classic book on sound, made up of lectures delivered at the Royal Institution. Among other papers that attracted marked attention in Europe was one "On the Adequacy of Laplace's Explanation to account for the Discrepancy between the Computed and the Observed Velocity of Sound in Air and Gases," written in 1861 and published in 1864. Laplace's modification of Newton's formula had been questioned by eminent English mathematicians and physicists. Dr. Le Conte showed that the obscurity into which the subject had been thrown was due to misconception of the physical theory of Laplace, and to the difficulties and obscurities which invest the mathematical theory of partial differential equations in their application to physical questions. This paper evoked replies from Profs. Challis, Earnshaw, and Potter, in England; but the American physicist's position is generally accepted today. The paper is a model of exact physical reasoning. In addition to the discussion of Laplace's views, it contains an original investigation of the bearing of the phenomena attending the propagation of sound in air on the question whether the gases constituting our atmosphere are in a state of mixture or of combination.

Just before the close of the war the home of Dr. Le Conte was included in the belt of desolation that was left by General Sherman's march through South Carolina. Among the losses by fire was the manuscript of a volume on general physics, the product of Dr. Le Conte's many years of experience as a teacher and student of this subject. The tribulations of the reconstruction period in South Carolina during the years following the war made scientific investigation impossible. The political turmoil, and the inauguration of the rule of ignorance and vice in place of intelligence, left no refuge but expatriation for those whose occupations depended upon the embellishments of civilization. To this source of disquietude was added the burden of domestic affliction in the loss of an only daughter in the bloom of early womanhood.

At this critical time came a call to the Pacific coast, to assume the chair of Physics and Industrial Mechanics in the University of California, which was then in the incipiency of its organization. The offer was accepted, and Dr. Le Conte arrived in San Francisco in April, 1869. Being immediately appointed acting president, he drew up the first prospectus of the university, in which was set forth a synopsis of the proposed courses of instruction. In September of the same year exercises were begun in temporary buildings at Oakland, where during the following summer he conferred the baccalaureate degree on three young men,