Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 57.djvu/229

From Wikisource
Jump to: navigation, search
This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.
219
THE PROGRESS OF SCIENCE.

THE PROGRESS OF SCIENCE.

Dr. Wolcott Gibbs presented his resignation from the presidency of the National Academy of Sciences at the recent Washington meeting, and the occasion permits the publication of his portrait and a few words in reference to his great contributions to science. Born in New York City in 1822, Dr. Gibbs graduated from Columbia College fifty-nine years ago. He studied abroad under Liebig, the founder of the first chemical laboratory, occupied a chair in the College of the City of New York, and was for twenty-four years Rumford professor at Harvard University. He became professor emeritus in 1887, and established a private laboratory at Newport, where he has continued his researches. Dr. Gibbs is one of the great chemists of the world. He is the only American honorary member of the German Chemical Society. Among other important ideas, his suggestion that the electrolytic deposition of copper be used as a means of quantitative analysis is one which has grown to a remarkable extent. There are now a number of volumes devoted solely to the amplification of this idea, which has been applied to numerous substances. Many other methods of quantitative analysis have been improved and simplified under his guidance, but perhaps his greatest work is his extended experimental study of complex salts, especially the cobaltamine compounds, and a great number of singularly complicated bodies, containing some of the rarer elements. Most of these substances are of no practical value, but they are of great theoretical interest, because they are only partially explained by the present theories of molecular structure. While the resignation of Dr. Gibbs from the presidency of the Academy is doubly regretted because it is owing to the fact that his health no longer permits the strain of the office, chemical science will profit all the more from his exclusive devotion to research.

The meetings of the National Academy of Sciences held annually at Washington during the third week of April, pass without the general attention that they deserve. For the Academy meets not only to listen to special scientific papers, but also as the official scientific adviser of the Government. As knowledge increases in range and exactness, it is evident that expert advice becomes more and more necessary, both for the enactment of legislation and for carrying it into effect. It may, indeed, be fairly claimed that the advisory or expert department of the Government should rank coördinate with its legislative, executive and judicial branches. The National Academy has on occasion been called to investigate scientific questions—thus it has recently presented a report to the Department of the Interior on a policy for the forested lands of the United States—but it has been of less service in this direction than was intended by the act of incorporation or than sound policy dictates. This limitation to the usefulness of the Academy seems to depend in part on the small membership, and the fact that it consists of the most eminent rather than the most efficient men of science of the country. The Academy has less than one hundred members, only one fourth as many as the Royal Society. Professor Jastrow shows in the present number of this journal that men of science do not become eminent until rather late in life, and the members of the Academy are apt to be somewhat lacking in initiative. University professors are now selected chiefly from