Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 10.djvu/661

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THE

POPULAR SCIENCE

MONTHLY.

 

APRIL, 1877.


 

A COMBAT WITH AN INFECTIVE ATMOSPHERE.[1]
By Professor JOHN TYNDALL, F. R. S.

A YEAR ago I had the honor of bringing; before the members of the Royal Institution some account of an investigation in which an attempt was made to show that the power of atmospheric air to develop life in organic infusions—infusions, for instance, extracted from meat or vegetables—and its power to scatter light went hand-in-hand. I then endeavored to show you that atmospheric air, when left to itself, exercised a power of self-purification; that the dust and floating matter that we ordinarily see in it disappeared when the air was left perfectly tranquil; and that, when the air had thus purified itself, the power of scattering light and the power of generating life had disappeared together. For the sake of reminding you of this matter, we will now cause a beam of the lamp to pass through the air. You see the track of the beam vividly in the air. You know that the visibility of the track is not due to the air itself. If the floating matter were removed from the air, you would not be able to track the beam through the room at all. You see the track in consequence of the floating dust suspended in the air. If the air be inclosed in a place free from agitation the dust subsides, and then, as I endeavored to show you a year ago, the air possesses no power of generating life in organic infusions. The nature of the argument is this: You see the dust as plainly as if it were placed upon your hand, and you could feel it with your fingers. You found that the dust, when it sowed itself in organic infusions, produced a definite crop in those infusions; and you are equally justified in inferring that the crop thus produced is due to the germs in the dust, as a gardener would be in believing that a certain crop is produced from the seeds which he

  1. A lecture delivered at the Royal Institution, on Friday, January 19, 1877.