Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 10.djvu/152

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search
This page has been validated.

thistle seeds form, at all events, part of the powder." Supposing a succession of such powders to be placed in your hands with grains becoming gradually smaller, until they dwindle to the size of impalpable dust-particles; assuming that you treat them all in the same way, and that from every one of them in a few days you obtain a definite crop—it may be clover, it may be mustard, it may be mignonette, it may be a plant more minute than any of these—the smallness of the particles, or of the plants that spring from them, does not affect the validity of the conclusion. Without a shadow of misgiving you would conclude that the powder must have contained the seeds or germs of the life observed. There is not in the range of physical science an experiment more conclusive nor an inference safer than this one.

Supposing the powder to be light enough to float in the air, and that you are enabled to see it there just as plainly as you saw the heavier powder in the palm of your hand. If the dust sown by the air instead of by the hand produce a definite living crop, with the same logical rigor you would conclude that the germs of this crop must be mixed with the dust. To take an illustration: The spores of the little plant Penicillium glaucum, to which I have already referred, are light enough to float in the air. A cut apple, a pear, a tomato, a slice of vegetable marrow, or, as already mentioned, an old moist boot, a dish of paste, or a pot of jam, constitutes a proper soil for the Penicillium. Now, if it could be proved that the dust of the air when sown in this soil produces this plant, while, wanting the dust, neither the air nor the soil, nor both together, can produce it, it would be obviously just as certain in this case that the floating dust contains the germs of Penicillium as that the powders sown in your garden contained the germs of the plants which sprung from them.

But how is the floating dust to be rendered visible? In this way: Build a little chamber and provide it with a door, windows, and window-shutters. Let an aperture be made in one of the shutters through which a sunbeam can pass. Close the door and windows, so that no light shall enter save through the hole in the shutter. The track of the sunbeam is at first perfectly plain and vivid in the air of the room. If all disturbance of the air of the chamber be avoided, the luminous track will become fainter and fainter, until at last it disappears absolutely, and no trace of the beam is to be seen. What rendered the beam visible at first? The floating dust of the air, which, thus illuminated and observed, is as palpable to sense as any dust or powder placed on the palm of the hand. In the still air the dust gradually sinks to the floor, or sticks to the walls or ceiling, until, finally, by this self-cleansing process, the air is entirely freed from mechanically suspended matter.

Thus far, I think, we have made our footing sure. Let us proceed. Chop up a beefsteak and allow it to remain for two or three hours