Popular Science Monthly/Volume 9/August 1876/Science in the Argentine Republic

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SCIENCE IN THE ARGENTINE REPUBLIC.
By Prof. C. GILBERT WHEELER.

MUCH is being done in the Argentine Republic of South America, not only for the advancement of general education, but for the extension of science. The foreign still preponderate over the native workers, yet there is a creditable showing of contributions to science on the part of the indigenous talent of the country. With its universities and colleges, its observatory, Meteorological Bureau, Academy of Science, Argentine Scientific Society, museum, and scientific journals, with its rich and yet little-studied flora and fauna, recent and fossil, the Argentine Republic has large and promising facilities for training scientific investigators, and for vigorous progress in the elements of a higher civilization.

The republic now has, in addition to the considerable number of foreign eminent men of science domiciled within her borders, a few natives, mostly younger men, who are devoting themselves to scientific pursuits. A still larger number are becoming interested in the subject, sufficiently so, at least, to give much time to the collection of specimens, making of experiments, "or the recording of observations, besides often expending in connection therewith not inconsiderable sums of money. There is Moreno, the young, bold, and successful explorer of Patagonia; Ramorino, the student of the phenomena exhibited by the famous Rocking-Stone at Tandil; and, as to the supply of careful meteorological observers, our eminent countryman, Dr. B. A. Gould, of the National Observatory and Director of the Meteorological Office, says:

"There seem to be persons enough who are able and willing to undertake the necessary labor of making systematic observations, troublesome as it is, with no other stimulus than their desire to serve science and their country. In three cases I have found gentlemen who have carried on observations of the sort during past years (up to eighteen), unaided and unencouraged. These have cordially offered me all their data, gratified at seeing their labors appreciated last. I think this young nation, so long struggling with foreign enemies and internal dissensions, has reason to be proud of the number, relatively large, even though intrinsically small, who are ready to work for her welfare and honor, without hope of personal glory or emolument."

Buenos Ayres, "the Athens of South America," has a scientific society denominated "La Sociedad Científica Argentina," with ninety-four active members, mostly natives, although the president is a Scotchman, the distinguished chemist, Prof. J. J. J. Kyle. Like all similar societies with us, it has had an ebb-and-flow experience, and, judging from the annual report for 1875, now before me, the monthly séances in that year were not prolific in scientific memoirs.

The regular monthly meeting, which should have been recently held, was transformed into an excursion to the steamboat-landing to welcome the daring explorer, Moreno, a member of the society, and who had just returned from a long and hazardous expedition, made without companions, and for scientific purposes, in the wilds of Patagonia. The society turned out in strong force, and, accompanied by many other friends and admirers of the "Livingstone of South America," as he has been called, proceeded to the pier, where a scene of enthusiastic embracing ensued, which I imagine must have been serious to one with a less firm physique than that of Moreno. Thereupon the noisy, good-humored throng accompanied him to his home, where a repast was served. The society has in contemplation a public dinner to the explorer, at which it is probable he will give some information as to his experiences and the scientific results he has gathered.

The rooms of the society are central, very comfortable, and well supplied with scientific periodicals. There are seven hundred books in the library.

The society offers prizes of a gold medal, suitably engraved, to be given as rewards for the satisfactory solution of scientific problems. These were for 1875:

  1. The most important applications of chemistry to the industries of the country.
  2. The most important applications of physics to national public works.
  3. The best method of utilizing the raw materials of the country.
  4. The best material for general construction suited to the republic.
  5. The best method of manufacturing materials of construction.
  6. The best work on physico-natural science, or its industrial applications.
  7. The best work on exact science, or its applications.

The awards for the previous year were:

Luis Gardella. For a steam-engine with multiple boiler.
Conrad Forrer. For an electric clock.
M. Puiggari. Memoir on the manufacture of sulphuric from the raw materials of the country.
Julius Lacroze. Memoir upon the utilization of the hard woods of the country in the pavement of Buenos Ayres.
Vincent Gaetani. For the manufacture in the republic of artificial marble.

It appears to be the custom, on the 28th of July, to celebrate the anniversary of the society by a conversazione, at which ladies are also present. An exhibition of objects of scientific interest was this year displayed on that occasion, and proved to be a very interesting feature.

The Academy of Sciences is formed from the scientific faculty of the National University at Córdoba, with the addition of other men of science in various parts of the country. The eminent zoölogist, Dr. Burmeister, of Buenos Ayres, is at the head of the Academy, and the members of the scientific faculty of the university are in the anomalous relation of being under the direction of the Academy rather than the university in their duties to the latter.

The secretary of the Academy is at Córdoba, his office being in the buildings of the university, where are also located the scientific collections of the Academy. These consist of:

  1. The Mineralogical Museum, containing a rich and very well arranged collection of minerals, altogether the best in the country. The Argentine minerals are particularly well represented and classified according to provinces. There are microscopic preparations accompanying many of the respective minerals and rocks. The collection occupies two rooms.
  2. The Botanical Collection is crowded into a room about thirty-six by twelve feet, and entirely too small to admit of appropriately arranging the numerous and interesting specimens.
  3. The Zoölogical Collection, which in condition of specimens and lack of arrangement is a disgrace to the curator of this department.
  4. The Physical Cabinet occupies three rooms and is a large and quite well arranged collection of apparatus.
  5. The Chemical Laboratory is in two of the basement-rooms, one of which is very large. It is well equipped, but the apparatus is not kept in the best order, nor the library which appertains to this department.
  6. The Library of the Academy is separated into sections, and the books distributed in the various rooms, where are located the various collections appertaining to the sciences of which they severally treat.

It is proposed soon to rearrange the collections of the Academy, put them in order so far as they are in need of it, and, where requisite, move them into more desirable and commodious apartments. They will, however, remain as now, the material for scientific illustration of the National University courses of instruction.

The glory of the Argentine Republic in the direction of work accomplished for science, and, as far as I am informed, of South America as well, is the National Museum at Buenos Ayres, of which the distinguished zoölogist, Dr. Burmeister, whose reputation is European as well as American, is the director. To a man of science this museum offers as great attractions as any of the leading ones in Europe, and there are many specimens found here, particularly in the department of paleontology, that are entirely unique. Remains of the huge animals of the sloth and armadillo families have nowhere been found so abundantly as in the valley of the Plate; in fact, most are unknown in other parts of the world. The National Museum at Buenos Ayres has a collection especially of Glyptodons and Megatheriums unequaled by any museum in the world; has, indeed, of the former a greater number than are to be found in all other collections. These fossils, found in the Argentine Republic, are objects of special legislation, inasmuch as Congress has by law forbidden their exportation except with the consent of the director of the museum. This consent is given only in those cases where duplicates equally good and interesting are already in the museum. Dr. Burmeister informs me that there are but three specimens of the Glyptodon anything like complete in European museums, and that in the United States he believes there are none. Even those which are in Europe are imperfect in some important features; none of them, for instance, showing the interesting annular connections between the carapace and the base of the tail, thus very much marring the symmetrical appearance which the fossil in reality possesses. The Glyptodon, as will be remembered, is one of the most conspicuous objects in the collection of casts of fossils made at Rochester, and now found in several American museums.

During my stay in Buenos Ayres there has been exhumed a more perfect Glyptodon than any yet in foreign museums, and, as Prof. Burmeister has the same species, I have bought it and shall bring it to the United States.

Besides the remains of extinct animals, the National Museum is rich in specimens of recent fauna, particularly insects. It also contains many objects of archæological and historical interest. Its mineralogical collection is of very trifling importance.

At present the museum appears to be overfilled, and it is evident that larger accommodations than the present are very much needed.

Dr. Burmeister has published the Anales del Museo Público now for a number of years, which contains excellent and detailed descriptions of many new species, the originals of which are in the museum. In this work the huge edentates and other mammalia which have made this museum so famous are described and figured.

Scientific Journals in Buenos Ayres.—In 1873 there was published a journal devoted to science, denominated El Ateno Argentino. It, however, expired, after six numbers had appeared. It was, I believe, a monthly.

The following year in May the Anales Científicos Argentinos was begun as a scientific monthly, of about thirty-two pages each number. The copy now before me contains about twenty pages of original investigation, the balance excerpta and translations. Five numbers of this journal appeared when the Mitré revolution, which for the time being paralyzed so many undertakings, extinguished also this laudable private enterprise.

A few months ago the Sociedad Científica Argentina, of which I have already spoken, commenced the publication of a monthly journal entitled Anales de la Sociedad Científica Argentina, which appears to be a creditable periodical, and I trust will live and prosper.

There is also published in Buenos Ayres a semi-scientific journal, called the Anales de la Sociedad Mural Argentina.

That there is some taste among the general public for scientific reading is exhibited by the circumstance that the daily papers find it worth their while to frequently admit scientific articles.

The National Observatory at Córdoba was established in 1872, under the Sarmiento administration, our distinguished fellow-countryman, Dr. B. A. Gould, being placed in charge as director, which position he still holds. The observatory has done splendid work for science since its establishment. A series of maps of the heavens, from the pole to several degrees north of the equator, is in course of preparation under the title "Uranometria Argentina." It is expected to contain about 85,000 stars, 35,000 of which are now for the first time corrrectly mapped. It is far advanced, and will be a monumental work when completed.

A meteorological office is also under Dr. Gould's supervision, and it is intended, when the arrangements now under way are completed, that the Argentine Republic shall also have her "Old Probabilities."

There is a school of mines in the republic, also two schools of agriculture. They, however, are too recently established to admit as yet of important results in their respective spheres.

Buenos Ayres, March, 1876.

 
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