Popular Science Monthly/Volume 50/January 1897/Notes

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The observation made by Mr. Alfred Springer five years ago that the acoustical properties of aluminum are approximate to those of wood, has been verified by continued experiments with sound-boards of that metal, and the author exhibited in the American Association several aluminum violins, together with a device, called a bass bar, by means of which the quality of the tone produced by the instrument can be controlled.

According to President T. Kirk, of the Wellington (New Zealand) Philosophical Society, the chief agents, next to man, in the destruction of native species of plants in the colony, whereby the way is cleared for introduced species, are sheep, rabbits, and the black rat. These animals have almost laid several districts bare, leaving only the sturdiest and most persistent growers. Introduced plants — silenes, white-weed, docks and sorrels, chess, and velvet grass — have nearly driven out the original littoral vegetation in some places. Even more destructive are the ravages caused by the parasites which these strangers bring with them. While the first catalogue of naturalized plants in New Zealand, published in 1855, comprised forty-four species, the present number is put by Mr. Kirk at three hundred and four, and by others at three hundred and eighty-two.

The ruins of Tepoztlan are regarded by Mr. H. Saville as especially important because they are the only American ruins to which a definite date can be attached. The sign of Ahuizotl, the immediate predecessor of Montezuma, is engraved on one of two slabs in the walls, and on the other the date, ten Tochtli, which corresponds to 1502.

Dr. H. C. Hovey called attention in the American Association to certain old monuments in colonial graveyards, particularly at Byfield and Newbury, Mass., and also to some milestones and stones in the foundations of old houses, which were carved in a style very unlike that of Puritan monuments. The symbols on them are pagan rather than Christian, and include disks, whorls, fleur-de-lis, phallic signs, and a design representing the sun-gods' bride with a sunburst over it. It may be suggested as a solution of the enigma they present that the maker of them had seen figures of the kind somewhere, or pictures of them, and copied them in the desire to offer something new and striking.

In one of his papers on the history of Niagara Falls, read in the American Association, Mr. G. K. Gilbert presented evidence of a former outlet of Lake Algonkin draining the upper lakes, heading at Kirkfield, Ontario, and following the Trent River to Lake Ontario, which belonged to an earlier date than the outlet through Lake Nipissing and the Ottawa River. There appear, therefore, to have been two periods after the origin of the Niagara River in which it was an outlet for the Erie basin only, and did not carry the waters of the upper lakes.

The making of the Mammoth Cave is attributed by the Rev. H. C. Hovey, D. D., in a paper read before the American Association, wholly to the solvent action of water upon the limestone. No earthquake disturbance or pot-hole action in the deep parts of the cave can be considered as having had any important effect upon the excavation.

"What is the bark?" is asked in a paper read before the American Association by C. R. Barnes, who calls attention to the varying use made of the term bark by different botanists. The Germans use Borke and Rinde to denote respectively the external tissue of the root or stem which dries up, and the entire mass of tissue outside the cambium. In this they are followed by the English; and the American usage, except as modified by foreign influence, assigns the name bark to the entire mass of tissue outside the cambium. In this use we are followed by the French. The author advocated the use of the word bark in this sense, and of cortex to designate certain parts of the bark, indicated by a preceding adjective.

Formaldehyde is Commended by E. A. de Schweinitz as possessing many good points as a disinfectant. Anthrax, tetanus, etc., are destroyed by it. It is a good deodorizer, for which use only very small quantities are required, which may be applied by spraying. It is a good preventive of decomposition. The sharp odor it leaves, the length of time necessary to remove which constitutes the chief objection to its use, can be counteracted by spraying with ammonia.

An experimental race was recently made in a French office between a skillful typewriter and an expert penman, the test being the number of times a phrase of eight words could be reproduced in five minutes. The typewriter scored thirty-seven and the penman twenty-three.

From experiments on four coal-tar colors—methyl orange, coralline yellow, saffroline, and magenta—H. A. Weber has found that no one of these affects both peptic and pancreatic digestion, but that each affects seriously one form or the other. In the discussion of this paper in the American Association it was held that too much importance was attached to such experiments, for the quantities of the substance in question used in food stuffs are extremely small.

It has been discovered by Surgeon-Major Bruce that the tsetse fly—the terror of equatorial and South African colonists, on account of the deadly effect of its sting on cattle—is itself innocuous, and is fatal to animals only when it introduces a flagellated infusorian or hæmatozoon into the blood of its victims.

The Botanical Society of America, at its recent annual meeting at Buffalo, elected Prof. John M. Coulter as its next president, and Charles R. Barnes, of the University of Wisconsin, secretary. President C. E. Bessey was appointed to confer with a committee of the National Educational Association regarding the unification of requirements in botany for entrance to colleges. The address of retiring President Trelease was on Botanical Opportunity.

Prof. Benjamin Apthorp Gould, one of the most eminent of American and of the world's astronomers, died at his home in Cambridge, Mass., November 26th, from the effects of a fall downstairs. He was seventy-two years old. An excellent sketch of his life and the work which made him famous and increased the glory of American science was given by Erving Winslow, with a portrait, in the Popular Science Monthly for March, 1882. An account of his great work at the observatory of Cordoba, Argentine Republic, given by Prof. W. A. Rogers in 1886, showed that he had then made two catalogues of stars—one a general catalogue extending to the south pole, containing 34,000 stars, and a catalogue of zone stars, numbering 73,000; the two catalogues representing about 250,000 observations, a large part of the work on which was done by Prof. Gould personally. The whole number of stars in the two Cordoba catalogues was nearly three times as great as in any catalogue that had been till that time constructed. The results of these observations and those of the meteorological observations instituted by Prof. Gould at places in all parts of the Argentine Republic are embodied in several large quarto volumes published in sumptuous style by the Government of that country.

Sir Ferdinand von Müller, colonial botanist of Victoria, who died in Melbourne, October 9th, was born in Rostock in 1825, was educated at Kiel, and emigrated to Australia in the hope of improving his health. Having established his residence in Melbourne, he became an indefatigable botanist and explorer. He was a member of several scientific expeditions in central and western Australia, traversed much hitherto unknown country, and made important collections. He acted as an adviser to the Government in matters of exploration, and took great interest in the opening up of New Guinea to science and commerce and in antarctic research. He became director of the Melbourne Botanic Garden in 1852, and when removed from that post in 1873 to give way to a practical gardener he was appointed colonial botanist. He made elaborate studies of the Australian flora, and when he found that he was not able, on account of his remoteness from the great libraries and collections of Europe, to make the best of his material, he sent it to Mr. Bentham, to be used in the preparation of the Flora Australiensis. His researches lay in the direction of descriptive and applied rather than morphological botany. He was a fellow of the Royal Society, and received one of its royal medals in 1863. He was a knight of the C. M. G., was made a baron by the King of Würtemberg, and received decorations of some kind from nearly every civilized government—of which he was proud.

In a paper on the sailing flight of birds, read in the British Association, Mr. G. H. Ryan pointed out that the support of a bird indefinitely in the air without flapping its wings is apparently contrary to the law of the conservation of energy, and must be due to either upward air currents, variation of wind velocity with altitude, variation of wind velocity with time, or the presence of vortices in the air. In the discussion of these theories, each of which was considered, the author expressed the opinion that birds in flight are often carried up by a side gust of wind, and that this is one of the causes of the phenomena presented by the sailing bird.