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

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search

Fragments of Science.

Three Blind Deaf-mutes.—Three blind deaf-mutes whose faculties have been developed from a completely latent condition are subjects of special notice in the report of the Perkins Institution for the Blind, Boston. Edith Thomas is described as furnishing convincing testimony to the efficacy of the system which is pursued in training such children. She has a good share of common sense, but is a little averse to intellectual exertion. Yet she is improving fast, gaining knowledge regularly and systematically, and is "steadily becoming more skillful, attentive, thoughtful, logical, and earnest, and the stream of her thoughts grows broader, deeper, and richer." She is fond of letter-writing, and does it with increasing facility of expression; while her letters show that she appreciates the pleasures of life, and despite her privations enjoys them highly. She likes reading and being read to, but wants her books true to life, and will not listen to fairy or highly imaginative stories. She is able to appreciate the rhythm of poetry, and Whittier and Tennyson are among her favorites. She dislikes arithmetic and is backward in it, but is proficient in geography. She has learned to mold maps in clay, and is able to repeat accurately the details of the surface of the regions she has studied. At the school commencement of 1894 she modeled the map of Massachusetts, divided it into counties in the presence of the audience, and pointed out the natural features and the towns with her left hand, while with her right hand she spelled the names into the hand of a blind classmate, who announced them. She has become a skillful dolls' dressmaker without the aid of patterns, and in teaching the use of the Braille typewriter to her companions she has exhibited the qualities of a strict disciplinarian. Willie Elizabeth Robin, now ten years old, came to the institution four years ago, totally blind and deaf, and ignorant of language. She has become proficient in reading, writing, elementary zoölogy, articulation, and knitting and sewing by the Sloyd method. She has even learned to use her tongue rather than talk with her fingers. She is specially interested in studying animal forms, and searches out the minute details of their structure. She is expected to tell all she can discover of each specimen given her; to represent it in clay; and afterward to write down what she has learned. Of a crayfish studied thus, she reported: "It has eight arms and two legs and a tail and two eyes, it has an body, it lives in the water. The body is hard and the arms and the legs are not strong, they are soft." Tommy Stringer came to the kindergarten department feeble, inert, exhibiting few signs of intelligence, and seemingly devoid of most of the impulses of children. He is now full of eager curiosity concerning the world about him, enjoys life, and is bright, affectionate, and extremely fond of fun. He is at the head of his class in some of his studies. He is remarkably interested in matters of housekeeping and domestic economy. He has a strong bent toward zoölogical study. In a talk about fish his attention was drawn to the backbone. He felt it carefully from end to end, and then passed his fingers up and down his own backbone to show the correspondence. "On discovering the eyes, mouth, nostrils, etc., of the frog, he pointed to similar features of his own; and when he found joints in the frog's hind legs, he immediately began looking for the joints of his own body and found nearly all." No seeing boy's portrait is more animated in expression than his.


Glaciation in High Latitudes.—In his Glacial Studies of Greenland, Mr. T. C. Chamberlin regards the effect of latitude on glaciation merely in the light of such results as may be attributed to the constancy of the sun above or below the horizon, the low angle of incidence of its rays, their impact from all points of the compass, and similar features. A partial means of determining what these are is found by comparison between the glaciers of Disco Island, only a little within the Arctic Circle, and those of Inglefield Gulf, eight and a half degrees farther north. The Disco glaciers seem to have all the familiar characteristics of glaciers south of the Arctic Circle, while the Inglefield glaciers take on habits significant of their high latitude. The feature which is likely first to impress the observer on reaching the glaciers of the north is the verticality of their walls. Southern glaciers terminate in curving slopes, and the Disco glaciers have the same habit; but the margins of the Inglefield glaciers rise abruptly like an escarpment of rock, a hundred or a hundred and fifty feet or more. The layers of ice are cut sharp across, exposing their edges. This, however, is not quite universal, as sloping forms occur here and there. Occasionally a glacier presents both aspects. These abrupt terminal walls turn toward all points of the compass. Next to verticality, the most impressive feature is the pronounced stratification of the ice, which is vastly more evident than in ordinary glaciers. The ice is almost as distinctly bedded and laminated as are sedimentary rocks. The movement of these glaciers is in most cases exceedingly slow, and many of the ordinary signs of movement are absent; but a few glaciers at the head of the gulf which produce large icebergs are notable exceptions to the rule. Several of the glaciers observed show evidence of retreat. One was seen overriding its terminal moraine in one portion and retreating within it at another, a fact indicating that it had been stationary for a considerable period. The combination of various evidences leads the author to regard the inference as unavoidable that the ice in Greenland, on its western slope at least, has never in recent geological times advanced very greatly beyond its present border. "This," Mr. Chamberlin adds, "carries with it the dismissal of the hypothesis that the glaciation of our mainland had its source in Greenland."


Indians of Piedmont Virginia.—The earliest accounts of the Indians of the Piedmont region of the South Atlantic States are given by Lederer, who explored the country in 1670, and Beverley. According to Beverley, as quoted by Mr. James Mooney in his paper on the Siouan Tribes of the East, each Virginian tribe had a particular tribal mark—such as one, two, or three arrows arranged to point upward, downward, or sidewise—painted on the shoulders, by which its members could be distinguished when away from home. The Virginia Assembly found these marks useful in the recognition of friends, and had badges made and distributed among the tribes, without which no Indian was allowed to come to the settlement. For counting, these Indians used pebbles or bundles of short reeds or straws. Heaps of stones indicated the number of persons killed on a battle ground or of emigrants to some distant region. Time was measured and a rude chronology was arranged by means of strings of leather with knots of various colors, very much as in Peru. This system proved so convenient in dealing with the Indians that it was adopted for the purpose by a governor of South Carolina. At certain ceremonies reeds or straws were arranged in a particular order, and left thus in place after the ceremony, as a record of the character of the performance there enacted. They were never disturbed, as it was deemed a sacrilege to interfere with them. Their pictograph system is described as having been capable of symbolizing mental qualities as well as spiritual things. The English were symbolized under the figure of a swan, on account of their white complexion and their power of flight across the sea. Their traditional history was delivered in the form of long narratives from the fathers to the children, who were obliged to learn them by heart. Among the Saponies fire was made by rubbing together two dry sticks of prepared wood, a process that required about ten minutes. On the occasion of any religious ceremony a new fire was made from two sticks which had never been used before. A strong thread was made from the fiber of a kind of "silk grass," with which baskets were woven and the aprons that formed the chief part of a woman's dress. Spoons were made of buffalo horn, and the Indians believed that these spoons would split and fall to pieces if poison was put into them. It was believed that venison and turkey must never be cooked together, under penalty of provoking the anger of the hunting gods.


Systematic Archæologic Work in Iowa.—A definite plan of research upon the archæology of Iowa was formulated several years ago by Prof. Frederick Starr. It embraced the preparation of a bibliography and of a summary, from which those interested may learn what has been done, the organization of exploration in every part of the State, publication of a report on such exploration and of a map showing the places where relics, etc., have been found, and finally the preparation of sets of illustrations and models of specimens, mounds, etc., to be distributed to schools, colleges, and scientific and historical societies within the State. The Davenport Academy of Natural Sciences has published the bibliography and the summary, both prepared by Prof. Starr. The latter is a brief description of the finds that have been made from time to time, arranged alphabetically by counties, and accompanied by a number of small maps and other cuts. By a wide distribution of this publication through the State of Iowa it is hoped that a body of helpers and coworkers may be raised up to work under direction toward definite ends.


M. Trouve's Acetylene Lamp.—Through the accidental discovery, in the electric furnace, of carbide of calcium, there has appeared a new lighting gas, acetylene. Up to this time the gas (C2H2) had been simply a laboratory product, discovered by Davy in 1836. It was found, however, that when calcium carbide, a peculiar spongy material, was plunged into water, acetylene was given off in abundance. It burns with a steady snow-white flame of great brilliancy and high candle power. M. Trouvé, says La Nature, has recently invented a practical lamp for generating and burning acetylene. The reservoir of the lamp is of glass and contains a metallic box in which is placed the calcium carbide. This box is connected with a stopcock, leading to a small gas burner which projects from the top of the reservoir, and is so arranged that as the water in the reservoir is allowed to enter and act on the calcium carbide, acetylene is generated and passes out to the burner where it may be ignited. The admission of water to the calcium carbide has to be carefully regulated, so as not to cause a too rapid evolution of the gas. The lamp resembles an ordinary drop light in appearance, and may be made in a variety of forms, lending itself readily to decorative purposes.


Ice Saws for Opening Navigation.—It is stated in the Journal of the Society of Arts, on the authority of the United States consul at Ghent, that a successful ice-sawing apparatus, by which bodies of fresh water may be kept open for navigation in the winter, is in use on the river Scheldt at Antwerp. It consists of a strongly built boat with rounded sides, carrying a small portable steam engine. At the bow a movable framework which may be raised or lowered at will carries the axes of two circular saws; these latter are operated by power from the portable engine. The boat itself is moved by means of a rope run over a windlass, the loose end of the rope being attached to an anchor fixed in the ice at a distance in front of the boat, and in the direction to be taken. The framework containing the saws is placed at a suitable height, according to the thickness of the ice, and the saws are set in motion. Being separated from each other by a distance of about five yards, they cut out a band of ice which the boat breaks into fragments by its forward movement. By reason of its form it causes these fragments to scatter before it—that is to say, to disappear on the right and on the left under the ice remaining in place. Through ice two inches thick this machine forced a passage at the rate of twenty feet per minute. In eight-inch ice the advance was about one third of a mile per day.


The Cost of an Epidemic.—In a recent number of the British Medical Journal, Dr. Munro gives the following interesting statistics: In the course of an epidemic of enteric fever in 1893 there occurred eight hundred and fifty-nine cases, and seventy-four people lost their lives. The loss in wages was $16,455; the cost of treatment was $2 1,475; funeral expenses, $1,850. Adopting Farr's estimate of the average value of an individual as a wage-earner, $795, we have for the seventy-four deaths the large sum of $58,830. So that the pecuniary loss to the community, arising in connection with the epidemic, amounted to a total of $98,610. A consideration of these figures, says Dr. Munro, might well suggest the reflection whether any investment was calculated to yield a better pecuniary return than the expenditure involved in the operations of the Public Health Department, which has for its main object the prevention of epidemics.


In the Frankincense Country.—Near Cape Risut, on the coast of Arabia, Mr. Theodore Bent, in his exploration of the frankincense country, found the trees covering a large tract. They have bright green leaves like those of the ash, small green flowers, and insignificant fruit. Frankincense was the old staple of trade in this district, and it is still gathered in three places in the Gara Mountains, and is classified in three qualities. It is only collected in hot weather, before the rains begin, in March, April, and May, for during the rains the trails in the Gara Mountains are impassable. The collectors cut the stem, and after seven days return to collect the gum which has exuded. This they do three or four times a month. In the cool weather, as the gum comes down slowly, they leave the trees alone. The trees belong to the various families of the Gara tribe, each of them being marked and known to its owner. The product is sold wholesale to traders who come after it. This odoriferous gum was much more prized for temple worship and household consumption than it is now, and so precious was it that the old Sabæan merchants invented marvelous stories of genii and dragons guarding the trees and of the woods exhaling deadly odors, in order to protect them from too curious and enterprising trespassers.


Seebohm the Ornithologist.—The science of ornithology has sustained a severe loss in the death of Mr. Henry Seebohm, which took place at his home in London, November 26, 1895. From a brief biographical sketch in the London Spectator we take the following: Coming of an old Quaker family, and from childhood an enthusiastic observer and collector, when he later in life became a large steel manufacturer at Sheffield, he still found time to make numerous excursions to foreign lands, in order to see for himself the English migratory birds in their temporary homes. His History of British Birds and their Eggs is one of the best works of its class. Among the many trips which he took to clear up some question of migration or habitat, the one which led to his discovery of the north coast tundras as the great breeding ground for a large class of European birds is one of the most interesting. In looking for the breeding place of several English birds which regularly disappeared every spring, no one knew whither, he was led to visit the Petchora River, which flows from the Ural Mountains northward and falls into the Arctic Ocean opposite Novaya Zembla. On the upper river is the great Siberian forest, while lower down on either bank below the limit of trees is the tundra, which fringes the whole length of the northern coast. It is called the region of treeless swamp, is uninhabited, and for eight months out of the twelve is covered with snow. Yet he found this to be the unknown land which drains the Old World of half its bird population every spring. At the beginning of April Mr. Seebohm reached Ust Zylma, three hundred miles from the mouth of the Petchora. The surface of the river was frozen as far as the eye could reach, and the frozen forest was as bare of life as the Desert of Sahara. Suddenly summer came, and with it the birds arrived. The ice on the river split and disappeared, the banks steamed in the sun, and innumerable birds of all sizes and colors appeared within forty-eight hours after the first warmth. The tundra was found to be a moor, with here and there a large, flat bog and numerous lakes. It was covered with moss, lichens, heathlike plants, dwarf birch, and millions of acres of cloudberries, cranberries, and crowberries. Forced by the perpetual sunshine of the arctic summer, these latter bear enormous crops of fruit. But the crop is not ripe until the middle or end of the arctic summer, and if the fruit-eating birds had to wait until it was ripe they would starve. But each year the snow descends on this immense crop of ripe fruit before the birds have time to gather it. It is perfectly preserved by, this natural system of cold storage until the next spring, when the melting of the snow discloses the bushes with the unconsumed last year's crop hanging on them or lying ready to be eaten on the ground. It never decays, and is accessible the moment the snow melts. The same heats which free the fruits bring into being the most prolific insect life in the world. No European can live there without a veil after the snow melts. Thus the insect-eating biids are provided for. The trip to the Petchora was but one of many similar expeditions which Mr. Seebohm undertook from a pure love of and interest in his science.


The Negro Problem.—Mr. J. L. M. Curry, Secretary of the Board of Trustees of the John F. Slater Fund, has written an interesting pamphlet on The Negro Problem in the South, in which, among other things, he discusses the -influence of education on the negro since the war. He says in substance: More than a generation has passed since slavery ceased in the United States. Despite some formidable obstacles, the negroes have been favored beyond any other race known in the history of mankind. Freedom, citizenship, suffrage, civil and political rights, educational opportunities and religious privileges, every method and function of civilization have been secured and fostered by Federal and State governments, ecclesiastical organizations, munificent individual benefactions, and yet the results have not been on the whole such as to inspire most sanguine expectations or justify conclusions of rapid development or of racial equality. Much of the aid lavished upon the negro has been misapplied charity, and, like much other alms-giving, hurtful to the recipient. Schools which were established without any serious need of them have been helped; public-school systems, upon which the great mass of children, white and colored, must rely for their education, have been underrated and injured, and schools of real merit and doing good work, which deserve confidence and contributions, have had assistance legitimately their due diverted into improper channels. A very promising sign, however, is the long-wished-for industrial development which seems to be dawning on the South. Whatever may be our speculative opinions as to the progress and development of which the negro may be ultimately capable, there can hardly be a well-grounded opposition to the opinion that the hope for the race in the South is to be found not so much in the high courses of university instruction or in schools of technology as in handicraft instruction. This instruction, by whatever name called, encourages us in its results to continued and liberal effort. What such schools as Hampton, the Spelman, Claflin, Tuskegee, Tongaloo, and others have done is the demonstration of the feasibility and the value of industrial and manual training. The general instruction heretofore given in the schools, it is feared, has been too exclusively intellectual, too little of that kind which produces intelligent and skilled workmen, and therefore not thoroughly adapted to racial development nor to fitting for the practical duties of life. That the two diverse races now in the South can ever permanently harmonize while occupying the same territory, no one competent to form an opinion believes. That the presence in the same country of two distinctly marked races having the same rights and privileges, of unequal capacities of development—one long habituated to servitude, deprived of all power of initiative, of all high ideal, without patriotism beyond a mere weak attachment—is to be regarded as a blessing, is too absurd a proposition for serious consideration.


Respirability of Vitiated Air.—The breathing of air in which a candle flame will not burn is generally considered dangerous. In a paper by Mr. Frank Clones, read before the British Association, at the Ipswich meeting, the results of some interesting experiments were given. It was found that the flames of ordinary candles and lamps were extinguished by mixtures which contained, on an average, about 16·5 per cent of oxygen and 83·5 per cent of the extinctive gases. A flame of coal-gas, however, required for its extinction a mixture still poorer in oxygen and containing ITS per cent of oxygen and 88·7 per cent of the extinctive gases. These results have since been confirmed by a different method, which consisted in allowing a flame to burn in air inclosed over mercury until it was extinguished; the remaining extinctive atmosphere was then subjected to analysis, when its composition was foimd to be practically identical with that previously obtained from the artificial mixtures. An analysis of air expired from the lungs proved that it was also of the same composition as that which extinguished the flame of an ordinary candle or lamp. The average composition of expired air and of air which extinguishes a candle flame is as follows: Oxygen, 159; nitrogen, 80·4; carbon dioxide, 3·7. Now, an atmosphere of this composition is undoubtedly respirable. Physiologists state that air may be breathed until its oxygen is i-educed to ten per cent. The maximum amount of carbon dioxide which may be present is open to question, but it is undoubtedly considerably higher than three per cent. Dr. Haldane maintains that the above atmosphere is not only respirable, but would be breathed by a healthy person without inconvenience of any kind; he further states that no permanent injury would result from breathing such an atmosphere for some time. The conclusion to be drawn from these facts is that an atmosphere must not be considered dangerous and irrespirable because the flame of an ordinary candle or oil lamp is extinguished by it. The popular notion about such an atmosphere might often deter one from doing duty of a humane or necessary character.


Death of Hoppe-Seyler.—Ernest Felix Immanuel Hoppe-Seyler (his name was Hoppe; he changed it to Hoppe-Seyler in 1862) was born in Freiburg, on the Umstrut, Saxony, on December 26, 1825. At eleven he had lost both father and mother. He was taken in charge and educated by the governing body of an endowed institution in Halle. Beginning the study of natural science in 1816, he received the degree of Doctor of Medicine in 1 850, and began practicing in Berlin. In 1856 he was appointed prosector in the University of Greifswald, and in 1858 was called to Berlin to act as Virchow's assistant; three years later he was called to the chair of applied chemistry in the University of Tübingen, and in 1872 was appointed to the only ordinary professorship of physiological chemistry in the German Empire, at the Kaiser Wilhelm Universität at Strasburg. Here he worked until the very eve of his death. He died on the forenoon of August 10, 1895. In 1857, while at Berlin, he published the filrst paper in a long series of valuable contributions to the physiological chemistry of the blood. In 1858 appeared the first edition of his Handbook of Physiologico-Chemical and Pathologico-Chemical Analysis. In 1862 he published one of his most valuable papers. On the Behavior of the Blood-coloring Matter in the Spectrum of Sunlight. The researches which followed on the chemistry of the blood-coloring matter probably constitute his highest claim to distinction. In 1877-'78 he founded the Zeitschrift für physiologische Chemie. Profs. Baumann and Kossel are, it is understood, to be the future editors of this journal. Although he did much to advance both physiology and pathology, Hoppe-Seyler is said to have been more of a chemist than a biologist.


A Colony for Epileptics.—The Craig Colony for Epileptics, named from the late Oscar Craig, of Rochester, is located on a tract of nearly nineteen hundred acres in the Genesee Valley. Its post office and railway station is called Sonyea, an Indian word signifying sunny place. The land is extremely fertile and the district a very beautiful one. There have already been erected some thirty or forty buildings. The colony will be a country village, only differing from others in being composed entirely of epileptics. The butcher, the baker, the grocer, the shoemaker, the mason, all will be sufferers from this curious disease. About thirty years ago a somewhat similar attempt was made in northern Germany; it has now developed into one of the most important labor colonies in Europe. The origin and history of this colony, which is called "Bethel," are given in detail in a previous issue of the Monthly. There are one hundred and twenty thousand epileptics in the United States; these unfortunates—perfectly well able to work, and many of them very competent—are debarred from almost every occupation, because of their liability to "fits." They are not admitted to the public schools, and are hence much handicapped in getting an education. In fact, about the only places where they are received are insane asylums and poorhouses. There are over a thousand epileptics in almshouses in New York State. The first work of the Craig Institution will be to remove these from the care of the State; after they are provided for, then outsiders will be admitted. There are no restrictions as to the age of patients, but necessarily no insane epileptics will be received. As the patients are received they will be set to work or at study in various ways. They will take care of the farms, gardens, and orchards; they will plan and build new houses; in fact, every sort of employment, every sort of recreation, everything, in short, that goes to make up the life of a country village will be found in this colony. The resources of the land are such, it is thought, that by judicious management the community can be made self-sustaining.