Popular Science Monthly/Volume 48/April 1896/Fragments of Science

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Fragments of Science.

Seven Years of Strikes.—Mr. Wright, the Commissioner of Labor, gives some interesting information in his last report. During the past seven years and a half the number of persons thrown out of employment by strikes was 2,391,203. His tabulation by States shows that the majority of these disturbances took place in five States—Illinois, Massachusetts, New York, Ohio, and Pennsylvania. These States contained fifty-one per cent of all the manufacturing establishments and employed fifty-six per cent of the capital invested in the mechanical industries of the country. Out of a total of 10,488 strikes for the entire country, more than fifty-six per cent occurred in twenty-six cities. The total wages loss in these twenty-six cities, Mr. Wright estimates, was in round numbers $35,000,000, and the loss to employers was something less than $29,000,000. Twenty-five per cent of these strikes were for an increase of wages, thirteen per cent were for reduction of hours, eight per cent were against reduction of wages, seven per cent were sympathetic, six per cent were for increase of wages and reduction of hours, four per cent were against the employment of non-union men, and three per cent for a recognition of the union. A study of the great effort and loss which these struggles present, says Architecture and Building, will compel the conclusion that some method of arbitration should be adopted.


The Nose as a Germ Filter.—It would seem, from the researches of St. Clair Thompson and R. T. Hewlett (London Lancet, January 11th), that the human nose is a nearly perfect filter for micro-organisms. These experimenters calculated that under very favorable conditions the lowest number of organisms contained in the inhaled air of an hour was fifteen hundred, and that oftentimes in the air of a great city there must be as many as twelve or fourteen thousand drawn into the nose during the same period of time. The fate of the thousands of microbes which thus enter the human body is a question of great pathological interest, and this increases when it is remembered that the expired air is practically free from germs. The fact that inspired organisms do not, as a rule, reach the air cells, was first pointed out by Lister. Later, Tyndall showed by his experiments with a ray of light in a dark chamber that expired air—or, more exactly, the last portion of an expiration—was optically pure—i. e.,that respiration has freed it from the particles of suspended matter with which it was laden. Since then numerous experiments have been made by bacteriologists, which show expired air to be free from germs. Grancher has made many experiments with the expired air of phthisical patients, and has never found in it the tubercle bacillus or its spores. "Now, as the air is practically freed from all germs by the respiratory act, we have to consider where and how the thousands of organisms are arrested in the air passages. The experiments of Hildebrandt would tend to prove that the air is entirely freed from all germs before reaching the trachea. In verifying this we have examined the mucus from the trachea of all animals recently killed in the laboratory, and up to the present have found the mucus to be quite sterile. We therefore commenced with the nasal fossæ, and found that the mucous membrane of the healthy nose only exceptionally shows any micro-organisms whatsoever. The interior of the great majority of normal nasal cavities is perfectly aseptic. On the other hand, the vestibules of the nares, the vibrissæ lining them and all crusts found there, are generally swarming with bacteria. These two facts seem to demonstrate that the vibrissæ act as a filter, and that a large number of microbes meet their fate in the moist meshes of the hair which fringes the vestibule. Germs which have penetrated into the nose are rapidly ejected by the action of the ciliated epithelium. "The nasal mucus is an unsuitable soil for the growth of organisms, and hence is an important factor in that it does not further their multiplication. A pure culture of the Bacillus prodigiosus was prepared, and a sterilized loopful deposited at a distinct point on the nasal septum well within the vestibule. Cultures were made from this spot every few moments for two hours, with the result of a continually diminishing growth in the culture medium, the sample taken at the end of two hours producing no growth whatsoever. The foregoing facts emphasize the importance of nose-breathing, and the great danger which arises from the habit of breathing through the mouth, and the resultant unfiltered stream of bacteria which is drawn through the pharynx into the trachea and bronchi.


Deteriorating Effects of Alcohol.—In the Fifth International Congress against the Abuse of Alcohol, held at Basel, Switzerland, in August, 1895, Prof Gauls, of Zurich, and Drs. Smith, of Marbach, and Fürer, of Heidelberg, read papers on the influence of alcohol on the cerebral substance and its deteriorating effects even in moderation on the memory and reasoning faculties. Drs. Smith and Fürer contended that intellectual work is always better during periods of abstinence than when strong drink is even sparingly indulged in. The reports presented by directors of lunatic asylums pointed to the conclusion that lunacy increases in direct proportion to the abuse of alcohol. On this point the preponderance of the sympathies of the meeting was evidently in favor of total abstinence. The influence of alcohol in fostering crime was dwelt upon by MM. Kohlinski, of Düsseldorf, and Marthaler, of Berne, penitentiary chaplains, and was made prominent by M. Denis, who endeavored by elaborate statistical returns to show the length to which European countries had gone in combating this source of criminality. France and Belgium, where no serious attempt has been made to restrain the spread of alcoholism, have, he said, the worst record in regard to crime. Switzerland and Holland, he contended, where the restrictive movement had already begun, had rendered crime "stationary," preluding a reduction in its prevalence as the movement became more energetic. Norway and Sweden, as already indicated, could boast of a distinct diminution in their criminal population, thanks to their control of alcoholism.


A Correction.

Editor Popular Science Monthly;

Sir: On page 575 of your issue for August, 1895, is the statement, "Prof. Simon Newcomb has been elected by the French Academy of Sciences an associate academician as successor to the late Prof. Helmholtz." As this fact is apparently ignored in the article on page 561 of the February issue (1896), where it says, "As yet the name of no citizen of the United States has been inscribed on the roll of the foreign associates of the institute, although it is understood that in a recent election to fill the vacancy occasioned by the death of a member the name of Prof. Simon Newcomb, of Washington, lacked but a few votes of receiving this honor," it is perhaps well to say that the former item is the correct one, and that Prof. Newcomb was elected a foreign associate of the French Academy of Sciences on June 17, 1895. Very truly yours,

Marcus Benjamin.
Washington, D. C., February 25, 1896.

Prof. Röntgen's X Rays.—The recent experiments of Prof. Röntgen on the so-called cathode rays from a Crookes, Lenard, or Hittorf vacuum tube, described by him in the Sitzungsberichte der Würzburger physikalische -medicinische Gesellschaft, 1895, and translated for Nature, are really only a continuation of the work of Hertz and Lenard, who experimented with these rays several years ago, and determined their curious property of passing through substances opaque to the ordinary light rays, and the latter of whom obtained photographic images quite similar to those of Prof. Röntgen. The rays with which the latter works, and which he calls the X rays, are chiefly seated at the place of most brilliant phosphorescence on the walls of the discharge tube; "that is, the X rays proceed from the front where the cathode rays strike the glass. If one deviates the cathode rays within the tube by means of a magnet, it is seen that the X rays proceed from a new point—i. e., again from the end of the cathode rays." The X rays. Prof. Röntgen says, differ from the cathode rays in two important particulars. Air absorbs the X rays much less than it does the cathode rays; and while the cathode rays are sharply deflected by a magnet, the X rays are apparently not at all affected by a magnet. The X rays could not be deflected by the use of ordinary prisms, but with prisms of ebonite and aluminum images were obtained on a photographic plate which point to a possible deviation. Lenses apparently have no effect in concentrating the X rays. The transparency of a great number of substances to these X rays, such as ebonite, glass, wood, cardboard, platinum, and many others, was tested, as also the effect of the thickness of the substance, and led to the conclusion that the density of the bodies is the property whose variation mainly affects their permeability, but that this alone does not determine the transparency. Increasing thickness increases the hindrance offered to the rays by all bodies. "The justification for the term 'rays' applied to the phenomena lies partly in the regular shadow pictures produced by the interposition of a more or less permeable body between the source and a photographic plate or fluorescent screen." The rays have the property of producing fluorescence in various substances, as barium platino-cyanide, calcium sulphide, uranium glass, Iceland spar, rock salt, etc., as well as of acting on a dry plate. "The retina of the eye is quite insensitive to these rays." Prof. Rontgen says in reference to their refraction: "Since I have found no evidence of refraction at the surface of different media, it seems probable that the X rays move with the same velocity in all bodies, and in a medium which penetrates everything and in which the molecules of bodies are imbedded. . . . It is known that Lenard, in his investigations on cathode rays, has shown that they belong to the ether, and can pass through all bodies. Concerning the X rays, the same may be said." Prof. Röntgen closes his paper with the following paragraphs: "A kind of relationship between the new rays and light rays appears to exist; at least, the formation of shadows, fluorescence, and the production of chemical action point in this direction. Now it has been known for a long time that besides the transverse vibrations which account for the phenomena of light, it is possible that longitudinal vibrations should exist in the ether, and according to the view of some physicists must exist. It is granted that their existence has not yet been made clear, and their properties are not experimentally demonstrated. Should not the new rays be ascribed to longitudinal rays in the ether? I must confess that I have in the course of this research made myself more and more familiar with this thought, and venture to put the opmion forward, while I am quite conscious that the hypothesis advanced still requires a more solid foundation." The most striking of the pictures accompanying the article are the photograph of a compass card and needle completely inclosed in a metal case, and a cut of the human hand showing quite beautifully the bones and joints.


The Incubator Bird (Megapodius Tumuli).—An account in the Geographical Journal of a trip to the little island of Niuafou, in the South Pacific, describes a native bird called the malau, which is apparently of the same order as the Megapodes; it makes no nests, but buries its eggs in the soft, hot sand of this volcanic island. It is about the size of a small domestic fowl. Its eggs are large and of a dull reddish color. The strange nesting habit and the large size of its eggs recall that curious bird the jungle fowl of Australia (Megapodius tumulus). Great numbers of high and large mounds exist in some parts of Australia, which were for a long time thought to be the tombs of departed natives; the natives, however, disclaimed the sepulchral character, saying that they were artificial ovens in which the eggs of the jungle fowl were laid, and which, by the heat that is always disengaged from decaying vegetable substances, preserved sufficient warmth to hatch the eggs. The size of some of these mounds is quite marvelous. One which was measured proved to be fifteen feet high and sixty feet in circumference. The whole of this enormous mass was made by the jungle fowl. If the hand be inserted into the interior of the heap it will always be found quite hot. In almost every case the mound is placed under the shelter of densely leaved trees. This precaution is probably taken to prevent the rays of the sun from evaporating the moisture. The bird seems to deposit its eggs by digging holes from the top of the mound, laying the egg at the bottom, and then making its way out again, throwing back the earth it had scooped away. The holes are not dug perpendicularly, so that although they are six or seven feet in length they may be only two or three feet from the surface. The leipoa, or native pheasant of Australia, like the preceding, lays its eggs in a mound of earth and leaves, but the mound is not nearly so large. Another bird having this curious nesting habit is the brush turkey of New South Wales. In the Guide to the Gardens of the Zoölogical Society of London an interesting account of the construction of the mound by some captive birds is to be found. "On being removed into an inclosure with an abundance of vegetable material within reach, the male begins to throw it up into a heap behind him by a scratching kind of motion of his powerful feet, which projects each footful as he grasps it for a considerable distance in the rear. As he always begins to work at the outer margin of the inclosure, the material is thrown inward in concentric circles until sufficiently near the spot selected for the mound to be jerked upon it. As soon as the mound is risen to a height of about four feet, both birds work in reducing it to an even surface, and then begin to excavate a depression in the center. In this in due time the eggs are deposited as they are laid and arranged in a circle about fifteen inches below the summit of the mound at regular intervals with the smaller end of the egg pointing downward. The male bird watches the temperature of the mound very carefully; the eggs are generally covered, a cylindrical opening being always maintained in the center of the circle for the purpose of giving air to them, and probably to prevent the danger of a sudden increase of heat from the action of the sun or accelerated fermentation in the mound itself. In hot days the eggs are nearly uncovered two or three times between morning and evening. On the young bird chipping out of the egg it remains in the mound for at least twelve hours without making any effort to emerge from it, being at that time almost as deeply covered up by the male as the rest of the eggs. On the second day it comes out. Early in the afternoon it retires to the mound again and is partially covered up for the night by the assiduous father. On the third day the nestling is capable of strong flight."


Indiana Academy of Science.—The eleventh annual meeting of the Indiana Academy of Science was held in the State House at Indianapolis December 27th and 28th. The meeting was one of the best ever held. Over forty new members were elected. The address by the retiring president, Mr. A. W. Butler, on Indiana: A Century of Changes in the Aspects of Nature, was intensely interesting and very profitable. A poem by Mr. W. W. Pfrimmer, the "Kankakee poet," on The Naturalist, was a novel yet a pleasing feature. Many of the papers were worthy of special mention if space permitted. The Recent Earthquakes East of the Rocky Mountains, by A. H. Purdue, and Unconscious Mental Cerebration, by C. E. Newlin, were perhaps two of the most interesting. The report of the Biological Survey on Turkey Lake deservedly attracted much attention. The spring meeting will probably be held in joint session with the Ohio Academy near the State line. Officers for next year are as follows: President, Stanley Coulter, Purdue University; Vice-President, Thomas Gray-Rose, Polytechnic; Secretary, John S. Wright, Indianapolis; Assistant Secretary, A. J. Bigney, Moore's Hill College; Treasurer, W. P. Shannon, Greensburg.

A. J. Bigney,
Assistant Secretary.

Dirt-Eating.—The habit of dirt-eating among children is the subject of an interesting paper by Dr. John Thomson. He finds that it occurs in two classes of children: (1) In cases of ill health from tuberculosis, etc., anæmia being almost always a prominent symptom; and (2) in healthy children, the habit being formed in infancy and disappearing spontaneously when the children are about three years old. Dr. Thomson regards the habit in this latter class as analogous to thumb-sucking, perpetual rocking to and fro, or constant rolling in bed, in which some children find delight and which they lose when they pass out of infancy. The materials selected are chiefly wall plaster and cinders. One child varies the latter by pushing the hearth brush into the ashes and then licking the dust off as a great delicacy. The habit, as is well known, is common among imbeciles and idiots; but Dr. Thomson's cases were free from mental disorder. Dirt-eating may lead to serious consequences when the material eaten contains harmful matter. The native Egyptians, who, observing the marvelous fertilizing power of Nile mud, imagine it must be equally nutritious for men, habitually eat it, with the result of infecting themselves with the ova of anchylostoma, bilharzia, and other parasites.


Piano Touch.—When a certain point of perfection has been attained in piano-playing it becomes very hard to distinguish inequality of touch; yet, owing to the varying strength of the fingers, it is only with much practice that perfect equality is possible. An account of an apparatus for graphically registering these inequalities is given in a recent issue of Nature. The instrument was devised and used for experimental work by MM. Binet and Courtier. It is said to be simple in construction and very accurate. The advantages claimed for the instrument are threefold: (1) It is found that the voluntary movements of the pianist can be observed without putting him to any restraint or embarrassment, for the resistance of the keys is not affected nor is the exterior of the piano altered; (2) for teaching purposes the device has been found of great use; the record made on a roll of paper shows the faults so precisely that, although they arc scarcely perceptible to the ear, there is no denying their existence; (3) written music can not show every slight change in time the composer might desire, but by applying the graphical method this difficulty is eliminated and the time will be reproduced with the smallest details.


The Cigar-Case Bearer.—A new fruit-tree pest has recently appeared in New York State, and is described in a bulletin from the Cornell Experiment Station. It is called the cigar-case bearer. Owing to its small size and peculiar habits, the insect in any stage will be rarely noticed by a fruit-grower, and yet the second one of the curious suits or cases which the little caterpillar wears is conspicuous enough to reveal its presence to the casual observer. The first suit is manufactured in the fall, to be worn all winter; but about the 15th of May the half-grown caterpillar finds this too small, and proceeds to make a summer suit which resembles a miniature cigar in shape and color. The first indication of the insect's presence occurs on the swelling buds of apple, pear, or plum trees. The work on the expanded foliage is seen in skeletonized dead areas, which have near their centers a clean-cut round hole through one skin, usually on the under side of the leaf. The caterpillars also often attack the growing fruit. It is only possible to fight the insect successfully in the caterpillar stage, and even then it requires very thorough work to destroy it.


A Contemplated Antarctic Expedition.—A committee has been formed in London to promote a mercantile and scientific antarctic expedition, and has already published its plan of operations. The scientific contingent, which will be accompanied by Mr. C. E. Borgrevink, will consist of twelve Englishmen trained in science, equipped with the necessary huts, dogs, sledges, etc., and will be left at Cape Adare, with the expectation of spending one year in South Victoria Land. The investigations will include the work of a land party toward the south magnetic pole, there to make magnetic observations; a survey of the coast line of the open bay, with exploration and soundings of fiords and bays; the making of zoölogical, botanical, mineralogical, and geological collections; dredging; and barometrical, thermometrical, meteorological, pendulum, air-current, and water-current observations. While the scientific men are thus exploring the land, the vessels will hunt whales, seals, etc., and expect to make three trips with their cargoes between the antarctic country and Melbourne. It is contemplated now that the expedition shall start about the 1st of September. Some money has been subscribed for the cost, but more is needed.


Mountain-climbing In Montana.—An article describing a trip of exploration to the Montana Rockies by L. W. Chaney, Jr., in a recent issue of Science, contains some interesting facts. In July last the party entered the mountains by the Great Northern road, which crosses the range about forty miles south of the international boundary, following on the western side of the divide the Middle Fork of the Flathead River. Twenty miles from the summit, at Two-Medicine Pass, is Belton Station. Here there falls into the fork a large and rapid mountain creek; it comes from Macdonald Lake, three miles away in the mountains to the northward. This lake is already much resorted to for fishing and camping purposes. At the northern end of it a small settlement exists, and from here the party started. After some unproductive explorations in a neighboring valley, they decided to try their fortunes farther north, and set out for a group of mines known as the International Camp, where the range, after sweeping northward from Lake Macdonald for thirty miles, turns quite abruptly to the west. This camp is sixty-five hundred feet above the sea. To the east is a saddle of the main range some two thousand feet above the camp. "To this saddle we then directed our attention, and the morning after our arrival we made the ascent, finding it not difficult. Immediately on stepping down from the rocks on the eastern side of the range we found an immense snowfield filling an amphitheater some four miles in diameter. As we crossed the snowfield to the east there appeared running parallel with the curving wall of the amphitheater lines upon the surface, whose significance we did not at first apprehend. Observations with the field glass soon indicated, what closer examination afterward confirmed, that these were long crevasses in the ice. We then knew that we stood upon the upper snowfields of a glacier not of great size, but in many respects very typical. Passing on to the eastern side of the amphitheater we ascended the rocky ridge which formed its boundary. Then suddenly there burst upon us one of the most tremendous mountain scenes any of the party had ever had the good fortune to witness. Sheer down below was a cliff which repeated experiments with falling rocks showed to be more than sixteen hundred feet of perpendicular precipice. From the base of this cliff the talus sloped down sharply to the bottom of the valley, no less than three thousand feet below. Around the northern end of the ridge on which we stood swept the glacier narrowed into a true ice river. As it broke over the cliff to plunge into the valley it was fractured with numerous crevasses. The largest was about twenty feet across, and into it plunged one of the surface streams which came down the glacier. Below in the valley lay a succession of lakes the first of so deep and dark a blue that without hesitation we called it Emerald Lake. The moraine at the foot of the glacier was evidently almost entirely ground moraine. There were very few large rocks lying in a mass of finely divided gray detritus. Across this rushed the stream which came from the glacier." Some crude observations were made as to the rate of movement of the glacier; between two days there seemed to be a movement at the center of the mass of about two inches. Mr. Chancy commends these regions to those who wish to study mountain forms or glaciers and glaciation. "There is an abundant and very interesting fauna and flora, and on every side the majesty and glory of one of the noblest mountain ranges."


Commercial Liquid Air.—A method for the commercial preparation of liquid air has been devised by Herr Linde, and steps are being taken to put it into practical operation. The successive coolings to the critical temperature, which the chemists effect by the evaporation of other liquefied gases, are in this process brought about by successive compressions and expansions of gaseous air. With an adaptation of piston machinery a volume of air is greatly compressed, and its temperature, which has of course become very high, is reduced by a cooling process. The piston is then withdrawn and the cooled compressed air allowed suddenly to expand. when another and greater cooling takes place, and is communicated by an ingenious adjustment of the machinery to the air that is to be liquefied. The process is repeated, a lower temperature being reached at each repetition, till liquefaction is accomplished, and after this "a continuous stream of liquid air is merely a question of engine power." Further than this, the air during the process becomes steadily richer in oxygen, until that gas forms about seventy per cent of the product, pure enough for most of the purposes for which oxygen is used; and we have here a new source for the cheap supply of it.


The Scientific Alliance.—The Scientific Alliance of New York which includes the resident active members of the New York Academy of Sciences, the Torrey Botanical Club, the Linnæan Society of New York, the New York Mineralogical Club, the American Mathematical Society, the New York Section of the American Chemical Society, and the New York Entomological Society—has nine hundred and thirty-nine members. An act of incorporation, formally accepted by all the societies, has been obtained from the Legislature of New York. Bulletins are issued about the 1st of each month from October to May, and announce most of the stated papers read before the societies. The list of the last year's papers includes upward of one hundred and eighty titles. A building committee has been appointed, but is at present awaiting the action of the trustees of the Tilden Trust upon a proposition made to them in 1892. Verbal assurances have been received from individual trustees that their plan of building contemplates giving the societies ample and very satisfactory accommodations in the building of the New York Public Library.


A New Variable Star.—The period of Wells's new variable star of the Algol type, known as B. D. + 17° 4367, has been ascertained at Harvard College Observatory to within a few seconds, and will probably be known within one second as soon as the form of light curve is determined. For nearly two hours before and after the minimum it is fainter than the twelfth magnitude. It increases at first very rapidly and then more slowly, and attains its full brightness, magnitude 9·5, about five hours after the minimum. Its variations may be explained by assuming that the star revolves around a comparatively dark body, and is totally eclipsed by it for two or three hours, the light at minimum, if any, being that of the dark body—a condition resembling those of U. Cephei. The variation in light of the new star is greater than that of any other star hitherto discovered.


A New Library Pest.—A comparatively recent importation, which is described in Insect Life, is the Nicobium (Anobium) hirtum III of the coleopterous family Ptinidæ. It is a native of southern Europe, but has been occasionally found in American libraries for a number of years. It seems now, however, to have become quite abundant, and is doing considerable damage in some of the older libraries of the Southern States. The larva of Nicobium hirtum does not differ in general appearance from other ptinid larvæ—i. e., it closely resembles a white grub in miniature, in shape and characteristic curvature of the body. It is covered with sparse but rather long hairs, while even a feeble magnifying glass will show numerous short, brownish spines, with which the larger portion of the dorsal surface is furnished. Although the legs are well developed, the larvæ are barely able to make use of them, and if shaken from the books they are unable to climb back to the shelves. They attack especially old books with soft paper and paper bindings. The beetle is of elongate, oval, cylindrical form, 0·12 to 0·16 inch in length, its color rather light brown, but rendered grayish by a dense, short, and somewhat velvety pubescence. This pubescence, however, does not uniformly cover the elytra, but is here absent on two or three transverse bands of which the anterior is usually quite distinct, while the two posterior ones are less clearly marked out and often confluent or broken up into spots. This' peculiar arrangement of the pubescence, as well as the strongly punctate elytral striæ, render this species at once distinguishable from all other beetles which are liable to occur in the rooms of a library.