Popular Science Monthly/Volume 50/March 1897/Fragments of Science

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Popular Science Monthly Volume 50 March 1897  (1897) 
Fragments of Science
 

Fragments of Science.



The Davy-Faraday Research Laboratory.—The Davy-Faraday Research Laboratory, established and equipped by Dr. Ludwig Mond, and presented by him to the British nation, was opened by the Prince of Wales, December 22d. From a review of the history of the idea of founding the institution, given by Dr. Mond in his presentation address, we learn that a movement was set on foot fifty years ago, under the auspices of Prince Albert, to establish an institute for the pursuit of pure chemistry, where practical and systematic instruction could be given to students, and a place provided where original research could be conducted by fully qualified investigators. At first it was proposed to attach this institute to the Royal Institution; but this plan had to be abandoned, on account of the inadequacy of the Royal Institution to provide accommodations for the scheme. The teaching part of the plan was, however, provided for a few years afterward by the foundation of the Royal College of Chemistry, which under the direction of Hofmann soon became one of the most successful institutions of that science in the world, while the provision of a place for original research still had to wait. Even before he knew of these facts. Dr. Mond had determined to found in London a laboratory of research in purely scientific chemistry and in physical chemistry—whence the greatest results in the knowledge of the real nature of things might be expected—and had come convinced that such a laboratory would derive the greatest advantage if it could be associated with the Royal Institution. He had therefore improved an opportunity that offered to procure a suitable property immediately adjoining the Royal Institution and prepare it, in cooperation with suitable advisers, for its special work. As it stood, he believed that it would compare favorably with any other laboratory in or out of England, in the completeness of its appliances, and was unique of its kind, being the only public laboratory in the world solely devoted to research in pure science. The laboratory contains: On the basement, rooms for thermo-chemical, for pyrochemical research, and for electrical work, a battery of twenty-six accumulators, constant temperature vaults, and boiler rooms and storerooms; on the ground floor, rooms for research in organic and in inorganic chemistry, a fireproof room for experiments in sealed tubes, a balance room, and entrance hall and cloak room; on the first floor, the honorary secretary's room, a large double library connected with the library of the Royal Institution; on the second floor, a museum of apparatus; on the third floor, seven rooms for research in physical chemistry; on the fourth floor, rooms for organic and for inorganic preparations, a photographic room, and four rooms for research in physical chemistry; and on the roof an asphalted flat, with table, gas, and water. All the floors are connected by a hydraulic passenger lift. Dr. Mond has further furnished the laboratory with an endowment of ₤100,000, or $500,000 — ₤38,000 sunk in the building and its equipment, and ₤62,000 for the endowment proper; and he has intrusted it to the Royal Institution, so as to insure its being open to men and women of all schools and of all views on scientific questions. Lord Rayleigh and Prof. Dewar have been appointed the present directors. The qualification for admittance to the privileges of the laboratory is to have already done original scientific work, or to be judged by the Laboratory Committee qualified to undertake original scientific research in pure or physical chemistry; but no person shall be excluded on account of nationality or sex. Admission to all the privileges is free, with responsibility for damage done.

 

Characteristics of Reformatory Prisoners. — The Twentieth Yearbook of the New York State Reformatory supplements the usual items of the formal report with some observations on the anthropometric characteristics of the inmates of the institution, which, while they are far from exhaustive, may cast considerable light upon the condition of the persons who find their way to such places. Exercise in the gymnasium was prescribed to the men of more marked physical defects, and general muscular increment in volume and power resulted from it. Comparing the five hundred and twenty-nine men of the reformatory with Amherst College students of nearly corresponding age, the reformatory man appears to be below the Amherst student's average ten pounds in weight, three inches and three tenths in height, fifty-six cubic inches in lung capacity, thirty pounds in strength of chest, thirty-two pounds in strength of back, and two dips in strength of arms, but reaches him in strength of legs. He is within one pound in weight and falls short an inch and seven tenths of the Wellesley College girl in height, and is only a little stronger than she in lung capacity and strength of chest, while he is superior in strength of back and legs. A large percentage of the heads are marked and scarred, as the result of street brawls and conflicts with the police, although the men's first explanation generally is a fall. Defects in the eyes are pretended in a large proportion of cases, but many of them are real. If near-sightedness, etc., are so much the result of civilization, school pressure, and close study as many physicians suppose, the class of men found in this institution should be practically exempt from it. "But the opposite are the exact conditions found." The physical make-up of the adolescent criminal appears to be reflected "as well in his visual organs as in other portions of his body, and the predisposition to eye trouble is inaugurated at both. The environment, personal habits, and mode of living only serve to act as exciting causes upon an already predisposed organism." Many of the prisoners in the reformatory are possessed of a defective inhibitory power or control, rendering it difficult and distasteful for them to apply themselves continuously to any one trade or calling. As boys, they are truants or shirks; and later on they constitute the class of men never able to retain a situation for any length of time. Others become thieves, to be able to indulge their propensities for dissipation. Within the last few years there has been a marked increase in the number of those committed whose nervous and mental condition is unsatisfactory.

 

The Grass Garden of the Department of Agriculture.—In the grass garden of the United States Department of Agriculture double beds, or plats, are arranged on each side of the greater length for the growth of native plants to be allowed to come into flower. Inside of these bands is a narrow range of plats in which are grown various fodder plants—clovers, vetches, lupines, etc.—which do not belong to the grass family. Extending lengthwise through the center is a series of larger beds in which are cultivated those grasses that are known or supposed to be good formers of turf. An opportunity is afforded by such an arrangement for the comparison of one kind of grass or forage plant with another, and for noting their relative merits for special purposes. In it may be grown, too, for the use and information of the botanist, the grasses of all countries, arranged according to their natural tribes and subdivisions. Opportunities for study and experiment may thus be given the botanist and the economist such as can be got in no other way. Native plants should always have a prominent position here, in order that we may become familiar with them, and because they may exhibit under cultivation qualities of usefulness which can not be detected in them in their native stations. Mr. F. Lawson Scribner, Agrostologist of the United States Department of Agriculture, says, in the Yearbook of that department, that "we have better grasses and a greater variety of them native to our soil than we can ever get from Europe, and it will not be necessary to grow them ten or twenty years or more in order that they may be acclimated. . . . There are sixty native species of clovers found in the United States; there are more than sixty kinds of bluegrass—distinct botanical species; there are twenty or more good grazing grasses related to the buffalo grass; there are fourscore or more of native lupines and twoscore vetches which have yet to be tried in our agriculture; and then there are broom grasses, and meadow grasses, and pasture grasses, and hay grasses, almost numberless, suitable to every kind of soil and rock formation and climate. And of all this wealth of kinds, the natural heritage of our country, hardly more than a dozen have been brought into cultivation."

 

Oral Schools for the Deaf and Damb.—The first oral schools for the deaf and dumb were established in 1867, when the sign system of instruction had been in full sway for fifty years, and they had to dispute for progress with a method which seemed firmly established. In 1868, 38 out of the 304 deaf pupils in the New England States, or a little more than 12 per cent of the whole number, were taught in oral schools. The Horace Mann School was established in Boston the next year, and since then the percentage has steadily increased till, toward the end of 1893, 351 out of a total of 524 pupils, or 67 per cent, were found exclusively in oral schools. Outside of the New England States, besides the special schools in which it is exclusively used, the oral method has been admitted into many of the other schools, and both systems are taught in them—a fact which is expressed by the words "combined system." Statistics of the use of the oral method in the whole United States show very clearly that the oral method is extending with great rapinity. Prof. A. Graham Bell, in the address from which we quote these facts, adduces as an argument for the excellence of the oral system that the little schools in which it is taught, springing up by private enterprise, are able to compete successfully with the State sign schools until the latter introduce the oral system and become "combined" schools, while the little schools still live. In Germany the oral method has encroached upon the sign method till that has given way to a combined system. At the International Convention of Teachers of the Deaf, held in Milan in 1880, all the delegates from continental Europe voted for the preference of the pure oral method, while all the votes cast against the resolution were those of an Englishman and three Americans. This decision has been accepted as final by all subsequent conventions. In 1881-’82, 81 per cent of the 280 schools for the deaf on the Continent of Europe were pure oral schools, 4 per cent were sign schools, and 15 per cent pursued a combined system. Prof. Bell traces the origin of his invention of the telephone to his observation of the ability of the pupils in the Horace Mann School to understand what was said to them by reading the movements of the lips. He was finally convinced of the fact, and was led to study the subject; then to devise machines and contrivances to help the children, the ultimate outcome of which was the telephone.

 

"Geological Myths."—As "geological myths," Prof. B. K. Emerson, in his chairman's address before the Geological Section of the American Association, characterized " the Chimæra, or the poetry of Petroleum; the Niobe, or the tragic side of calcareous tufa; Lot's wife, or the indirect religious effects of cliff erosion; and Noah's flood, or the possibilities of the cyclone and the earthquake wave working in harmony." Regarding a myth as meaning "a history, treasured and hallowed in the literary and religious archives of an ancient folk, of some startling or impressive event that, in the stimulating environment of poetry and personification, has completed a long evolution which disguises entirely its original," the author sought the origin of these stories in traits of the natural features with which they were associated. The Chimæra was described by the Greek poets as a monster having the tail of a dragon, the body of a goat, and the head of a lion, or the three heads of lion, goat, and serpent, vomiting fire and ravaging the mountains of Lycia. By comparing the references in various authors with the observations of Admiral Beaufort at the end of the last century, the examination of the spot by Spratt and Forbes in 1842, and the accounts of other modern travelers, the origin of the fable is traced to a mountain called the Yanar-dagh, formerly Chimæra (both names meaning burning mountain), from a crevice of which issues a stream of burning gas. The Greek word χαμασίρα means goat. Hence the origin of the basis of the myth, the goat's body, to which, it really vomiting flames, imagination added the heads and the tail. Niobe, who wept herself into a stone over the death of her twelve children slain and petrified, is, as the American scholar Van Lennep has shown, a prehistoric statue of a woman, cut in the rock of Mount Sipylus, in Lydia, over which the water trickles from the rocks above. Below the figure lie in the talus rocks fallen from the cliffs, out of which imagination may construct the children turned to stone. The name Niobe is associated in sound with Greek words signifying the pouring of water and the falling of snow. Lot's wife is representative of a common phenomenon of the salt ridge of Kushum Usdum, or Sodom, on the Dead Sea, where one pillar is formed out of the mass as its predecessor is eaten away. The story of the Flood may well stand as a graphic description of the combined action of a cyclone and an earthquake with tidal wave, affecting the region of the Persian Gulf.

 

The Circulation in Plants.—The discussion in the Botanical Section of the British Association on the circulation of water in plants was participated in by Francis Darwin, Prof. Marshall Ward, Prof. Fitzgerald, and Dr. Joly, of Dublin. Mr. Darwin considered the path of the ascending current in trees and the force that produces the ascent of the water. Attention was called to the necessity of a complete study of the minute structure of wood in relation to the modern theories. Prof. Vines referred to an account he had published of a number of experiments on the suction force of branches. He had been under the impression that the results obtained were independent of the action of atmospheric pressure—that they were solely indications of tensile stress exerted by the transpiring branch upon the water in the apparatus; but now he had reason to believe that they were, as a matter of fact, affected by the atmospheric pressure. Hence these results are not different in kind from those of other observers, but are compatible with them. The observations brought out the two important facts that a high suction force can be developed by branches which have been deprived of their leaves, and that this suction force is not dependent on the life of the branch. Prof. Vines then proceeded to give an account of subsequent observations made with dead hazel branches (pea sticks), which had been found to develop considerable suction force, amounting in one case to nineteen inches and a half of mercury with a stick eighteen inches long. He concluded by expressing the opinion that in recent attempts to explain the mechanism of the transpiration current, the part played by the "imbibition" of the cell walls had been underestimated, and urged that what is especially requisite for a further advance is a more complete investigation of the properties of a dead stick.

 

Chinese Cheap Money.—The Chinese, as all the world may know, have cheap money, their standard of value being a copper coin about the size of a quarter of a dollar, with a square hole in the middle by which it may be strung, which is commonly called cash—in Chinese, tsien. They are strung by hundreds, with a knot to mark each hundred, and when large sums are to be used, strings enough to make out the amount are hung upon the shoulders of the carrier. Mr. Carles, a traveler in Korea, relates that he had to hire a special pony on one of his excursions to carry his cash, and that at one time he met two ponies carrying twenty-four thousand cash, or thirty dollars, to pay the workmen at a certain mine. The Chinese money-tellers become very expert in counting these cash and detecting false ones, for even these copper pieces, representing as little value as money can be made to do, are falsified. Emblems manufactured out of iron or of sand and gluten are often put upon the strings in place of the real bronze coin; in fact, a certain number of these spurious pieces are nearly always found. They are detected and separated from the genuine by boiling the pile or string. The sand and gluten cash are dissolved, and the iron are exposed. The accountant weighs what is left; or, if the sum represents millions, he boils a few thousand and makes an average from the result which he applies to the whole.

 

The Smoke Nuisance.—A recent English inquiry into the smoke nuisance and the possibility of its abatement is noticed in Industries and Iron. The commission's report contains much interesting information, and sums up as follows: In presenting their report the committee express their conviction that in the great majority of cases the black smoke thrown into the air during the combustion of coal is preventable, either by hand or mechanical firing, and without great cost to the consumer. Often the prevention of smoke is accompanied with saving of expense, in that an increase of heat is developed by a more perfect combustion of the fuel; and where live fire bars are adopted—that is, where the bars have an automatic reciprocating motion—an inferior and cheaper quality of coal can be used, and thus a further saving of expense effected. The consumption of fuel was found to be lower in boilers fired by machine than in those fired by hand. In short, they say a manufacturing district may be free from manufacturing smoke—at least from the steam boilers, with which alone the commit- tee have concerned themselves—and they give ample information as to the means by which it may be so freed. As the discharge of black smoke from factory chimneys was made a criminal offense in England by the Public Health Act of 1875, all that is necessary now to abate the nuisance is a call by public opinion for the application of the law.

 

The Earliest Animal Life.—The president of the Geological Section of the British Association, J. E. Marr, opened his presidential address, on stratigraphical geology, with a reference to the points in geological history of which we are ignorant. Specially prominent among these is that of the animal life of the earth during the vast length of time previous to the Cambrian period. The extraordinary complexity of the earliest known Cambrian fauna has long been a matter of surprise, and the recent discoveries in connection with the Olenellus fauna do not diminish the feeling. We may look forwardwith confidence to the discovery of many faunas older than those of which we now possess certain knowledge, but until these are discovered the paleontological record must be acknowledged to be in a remarkably incomplete condition. Valuable work has recently been done in proving the existence of important groups of stratified rocks deposited previously to the beds containing the earliest known Cambrian fossils. With our present views, however, we can hardly suppose that organisms acquired hard parts at a very early period of their existence, and fauna after fauna may have occupied the globe and disappeared, leaving no trace of their having lived. In such case we are not likely ever to obtain from fossils definite knowledge of the character of the earliest faunas; and the biologist must not look to the geologist for direct information concerning the dawn of life upon the earth. The importance of detailed work may be inferred from a consideration of the great increase of our knowledge of the Permo-Carboniferous faunas as the result of recent labors in remote regions. It is specially desirable that the ancient faunas and floras of tropical regions should be more fully made known, as a study of these will probably throw considerable light upon the influence of climate on the geographical distribution of organisms in past times.

 

A Lobster's Motions.—The adult lobster, as appears from Dr. F. H. Herrick's study in the Bulletin of the United States Fish Commission, lives and feeds exclusively upon the sea bottom, which it never leaves of its own accord in any considerable degree. In traveling over the bottom in search of its prey, the lobster walks nimbly upon the tips of its slender legs. The large claws are extended in front of the head, a position which offers the least resistance to the water, while the two hinder pairs of walking legs, which end in hard, spurlike joints, serve as picks to steady the movements of the animal. In thus getting about, it has the constant aid of the delicate swimmerets, attached vertically to the under surface of the "tail," each of which consists of a short stalk and two very flexible blades. By the movements of the swimmerets the lobster is impelled slowly forward without the aid of the walking legs. The branches of the swimming feet are garnished with long, chitinous setœ or hairs, to which the eggs of the female are attached. When taken out of the water the lobster can only crawl in its vain attempts to walk, owing to the heavy body and claws, which the slender walking legs are unable to sustain. In exploring its feeding grounds, where an enemy is likely to be encountered, the legs which carry the long claws are extended forward in front of the head or carried some what obliquely, their tips resting on the bottom, and the long, sensitive "feelers" are waved constantly back and forth to give warning of any foe or other objects which the eye may fail to detect. These are exclusively organs of touch. If the anticipated enemy makes his appearance, or if the animal is surprised, as when it is suddenly touched with the blade of an oar or cornered, it will immediately strike an attitude of defense. It now raises itself on the tips of its walking legs, lifts its powerful claws over the head after the manner of a boxer, and strikes with one of its claws at the offending object, trying to crush it or tear it to pieces. By far the most powerful organ of locomotion in the lobster is the tail, by the flexion of which it can scull itself through the water with astonishing rapidity. The lobster, though less active and keen-witted than the higher crabs, can not be regarded as a sluggish animal in any sense. In the water its movements are graceful; it is wary, resourceful, pugnacious, capable of defending itself against enemies which are often larger than itself, and, if the occasion requires it, of running about with the greatest agility and speed. When a lobster is surprised it seems to disappear with a single leap or bound, as a locust or grasshopper might do. It never, however, rises more than a few inches or at least a few feet above the bottom, and it is evident that swimming at the surface would be impossible, on account of the great weight of the body.

 

Jack Rabbits.—The jack rabbits, which occur almost everywhere in the Great Plains and desert regions of the United States, are so called—also "jackass hares" and "jacks," "narrow-gauge mules," and "small mules"—from the resemblance of their large ears to those of the jackass. They may be seen abroad. Dr. T. S. Palmer says in his account of them, at almost any hour of the day. Living as they do on the open plain, where they are compelled to rely for safety on quickness of hearing and on speed, their ears and hind legs are developed to an extraordinary degree. This gives them a somewhat grotesque appearance, but in reality few animals are more graceful than they as they bound along when once thoroughly alarmed. A closer acquaintance with their habits will reveal many points of interest, and will arouse admiration for the way in which they seem to overcome every adverse condition of life. Unlike the cotton-tails or the common rabbit of Europe, these hares do not live in burrows, but make "forms" under bushes or in patches of weeds, where they find protection from the weather and bring forth their young. Where there are no bushes they seek the protection of any object that can shield them from the sun — even the shadows of the telegraph poles along the railroads. Extremes of climate do not appear to affect them. They feed on the bark and leaves of shrubs and on herbage. They live on the grasses of the plains, the bark of willows, greasewood, cactus, shrubs which other animals seldom touch. Sometimes it is hard to see where they can get food enough; but lack of water and of green herbage serves only to reduce their numbers, and rarely causes their complete absence from any region. Among the greasewood on the alkali flat northwest of Great Salt Lake and on the cactus-covered deserts of Arizona the jack rabbits are almost as fat and sleek as when feeding in the alfalfa patches and vineyards of southern California. If necessary, they can travel long distances for food; but, as they seldom drink, scarcity of water causes them little inconvenience, and the juicy cactus pads or ordinary desert herbage furnish all the moisture necessary to slake their thirst. They are very destructive to gardens and orchards, and, as they multiply rapidly, they often become great pests, and would be in danger of overrunning the country if not kept down. Where new land is cultivated or irrigated they seem to swarm in from the surrounding country, and flourish where civilized conditions prevail. The damage done by them in Tulare County, California, in a single year has been estimated at six hundred thousand dollars, and a single county in Idaho has spent more than thirty thousand dollars in bounties on them. Fortunately, they can be used for coursing, for their skins, and for food. As they outrun all but the swiftest hounds, coursing for them is rare sport. The consumption of them for food amounts to about six hundred thousand a year, and is gradually increasing. Under the energetic measures that have been taken against them their numbers are gradually diminishing.

 

Women in Business. — A London trades paper has extracted from an official report on bankruptcy the fact that comparatively few failures occur among women engaged in business. This, says the Spectator, remarking upon the subject, we would expect to be told; "and in this case, at any rate, the statistics correspond with the general impression of the world, that women in business are more careful than men — less liable to run into excess and to ruin themselves by too adventurous a spirit." Another fact parallel with this, but which has not found its way into the statistical reports, may be accepted as generally if not universally true, that women in business do not accumulate large fortunes. It follows, from the same reason, that enterprises that bring great returns also almost necessarily involve great risks; and avoidance of the risk carries with it avoidance of the accompanying chance of making a fortune. "To put the matter in a nutshell, a woman conducts her business on the cardinal principle of making as few losses as possible; a rain, on the cardinal principle of making as many profits as possible."

 

W. F. Ainsworth.—W. F. Ainsworth, who died in London, November 2'7th, in his ninetieth year, was a veteran in science, the recollection of whom may have passed from the minds of most of the present generation. He took a surgeon's degree at Edinburgh in 1827, and, having gone to the School of Mines in Paris, made a vacation walking tour in the Pyrenees and volcanic districts of Auvergne. He afterward started and conducted the Edinburgh Journal of Natural and Geographical Science; walked to London in a geological study of the country, and became a member of the Royal Geographical Society. In 1831 he made a study of the cholera, was appointed surgeon to a cholera hospital in London, and was sent, when the disease broke out in Ireland, to the affected towns and districts. Results of these experiences and attendant adventures were many papers published on cholera, and a monograph, in 1834, on the Caves of Ballybunnion, which is described as "a remarkable production in respect of its date and the subsequent development of geology." In 1833 he was appointed surgeon and geologist to the Euphrates Expedition under Chesney; and, after returning from this was placed in charge of another expedition, sent out by the Royal Geographical and the Propagation of Christian Knowledge Societies, to the Christians in Chaldea. Two books made known the scientific and other observations he made in these expeditions, to be followed, in 1844, by a geographical and descriptive account of the expedition of Cyrus and the retreat of the Ten Thousand with which Xenophon made the world acquainted. He returned to England in 1841; conducted the Syro-Egyptian Society; labored for the adoption of the route to India via the Euphrates and Tigris Valleys; was founder and honorary treasurer of the West London Hospital; and published new geographical books. A bibliography of his contributions to knowledge, the Athenæum says, "would itself fill a volume." He was a corresponding member of the Geographical Society of Paris, the German Oriental Society, and the Moldavian Natural History Society.