Popular Science Monthly/Volume 59/September 1901/The Progress of Science

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search



The chief scientific event of August is the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and the present meeting is of more than usual significance. It is doubtless a mere coincidence that the fiftieth meeting of the Association and the first meeting of the twentieth century should be the first to be held in the western states. The meeting itself is, however, nearly as important an event for science in the west as was the original foundation of the Association for science in the east. It means that the scientific men of the western states have now become sufficiently numerous and influential to meet on terms of equality with those of the east. The development of scientific work in the central and western states during the past ten years has perhaps never been rivaled in the history of civilization. Of the twelve American universities having in their faculties the largest number of scientific men, seven are in this region—Chicago, California, Michigan, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois and Stanford. Each of these universities has on its faculties twenty-five or more scientific men, apart from medicine and engineering, and other institutions—Nebraska, Kansas, Missouri, Iowa, Indiana, Texas, Washington and more—will soon be of the same rank. With a prejudice that is not unreasonable, we assume that the scientific intelligence of the country may be measured by the percentage of people that subscribe to this journal. Massachusetts would, by this criterion, stand first, but Colorado would have twice the intelligence of New Jersey, California nearly three times the intelligence of Pennsylvania and Arizona ten times the intelligence of Maryland. During the past ten years the population of the western half of the country has not increased appreciably more rapidly than that of the eastern half, but its educational and scientific development has been truly marvelous.

The meeting of the American Association at Denver, midway between Chicago and the Pacific coast, will be largely attended by those scientific men for whom it is the geographical center, and the excursion to Colorado is so attractive that the eastern states are certain to be well represented. The council holds a preliminary meeting on August 24, but the meeting really opens on the twenty-sixth. In the morning there is the usual formal welcome by the governor of the state, the mayor of the city and other officers, and the presidency is transferred by Professor Woodward, of Columbia, to Professor Minot, of Harvard. On Monday afternoon the addresses of the vice-presidents are delivered, and on Tuesday the retiring president gives Ms address, the subject being 'The Progress of Science.' During the week the Association meets in nine sections, and more or less closely affiliated with them are the meetings of nine special societies. The usual entertainments are offered by the citizens of Denver, and excursions of more than usual interest are planned to precede and follow the meeting. The geology, paleontology, flora, archeology and mining resources of the region are of peculiar interest to scientific men, and the scenic beauty of the state and of the surrounding states is known throughout the world.

The Association is this year particularly fortunate in its retiring and in its incoming presidents. Other eminent men have presided over the Association, but perhaps not before have they united scientific eminence with such great services to the Association and the organization of science in America. Those who have heard or read the presidential addresses which Professor Woodward gave last year before the American Mathematical Society and before the New York Academy of Sciences will look forward with great interest to the Denver address, which we hope to publish in the next issue of this journal. Professor Minot, the incoming president of the Association—whose portrait is given as frontispiece—is known here and abroad for his important contributions to embryology, physiology, animal morphology and zoology. As a boy Minot collected insects, and his earliest publications were on entomological topics. Graduating at the age of twenty from the Massachusetts institute of Technology in 1872, he could at that time find in America no good opportunity to carry on advanced studies and consequently went abroad and spent three years in Germany and France. He was given the S.D. by Harvard in 1878 and appointed lecturer in the medical school in 1880, being promoted to an assistant professorship in 1887 and to the full professorship of histology and embryology in 1892. At first Minot's work was chiefly physiological—while a student under Ludwig at Leipzig he published an article showing that muscles can maintain their contraction without forming carbonic acid—and in the direction of experimental biology, his investigations covering topics such as growth, heredity and the differentiation of tissues. This work led to two important laws, namely, that, aside from minor fluctuations, the power of growth diminishes from birth onwards, there being really in animals no period of development as opposed to decline; and that the decline in the rate of growth is correlated with the increase and differentiation of the protoplasm of the cells. Another field of early study was the structure of worms. Here his most important result was the demonstration that the Nemertean worms, which had always been classed with the Plathelminths, form a distinct class. The microscopic anatomy of insects and vertebrates was the subject of a number of investigations, among them an extended essay on the histology of the locust, which contains many new observations on insect anatomy.

Owing to the claims of his professorship, strictly embryological work has steadily grown more predominant during the last twenty years. His first important embryological paper was a comparative study of the uterus and placenta, being the first comprehensive account of the microscopic anatomy of the human uterus during pregnancy, and containing many additions to knowledge. During recent years his writings—which in all number over one hundred and fifty titles—have chiefly presented the results of various embryological investigations. The book on 'Human Embryology,' first published in 1892, is a standard work here and in Europe.

As has been indicated, Professor Minot, while making these important contributions to science and conducting a department in a great medical school, has found time to take a leading part in what may be called the organization of science. He has written admirable articles and addresses of a general character, published in this and in other journals; he has by his publications and personal efforts done much to advance medical education and to unite it with biological research; he has accomplished much for bibliography, for the building and equipment of laboratories and in other directions. Following the suggestion of Professor Hyatt, he founded the American Society of Naturalists and has been its president; he was one of the active founders of the Marine Biological Laboratory at Wood's Holl, and it was chiefly through his exertions that the American Society for Physical Research was started. He has been president of the American Morphological Society, and since 1897 president of the Boston Society of Natural History. He is, of course, a member of the National Academy and of many other scientific societies. In 1885 he was general secretary of the American Association and in 1890 vice-president for the section of biology. The Association is fortunate when the country produces for its presidents such men as Professors Woodward and Minot.


The recent congress in London was as much an institution for public education as a scientific meeting. As a rule people do not profit greatly by learning about the diseases to which they are subject, but consumption is an exception. This disease is still regarded by many as hereditary and incurable; its existence is consequently ignored and concealed, and becomes a source of danger to others. But consumption is a curable and especially a preventable disease. Post-mortem examinations of those dying by accident show that about one-half of all people living in cities have had tuberculosis of the lungs, usually of course without knowing it. The disease has been cured without precautions and under unhygienic conditions. When detected in time, tuberculosis is not only curable, but is one of the most easily cured of chronic diseases. It has been decreased by one-half in Great Britain by improved sanitary conditions; it has within a few years been decreased by one-third in New York City as the result of municipal control. The disease is chiefly spread by the tubercle germs in the sputum carelessly scattered abroad, and chiefly favored by general insanitary conditions. It is consequently a matter of great concern, both to those who suffer from consumption and to those brought in contact with them,—and practically every one belongs to one of these clases—that the public should be educated to understand and support the measures required to combat the most terrible of all diseases.

If the congress in London accomplished more for the education of the laity than for the increase of knowledge, this is not to be regretted. The reception of foreign delegates, their presentation to the king and elaborate entertainment, led to the wide reporting of the proceedings in the press, and many of the papers were intended for the general public rather than for the specialist. Professor Koch's admirable address, which is published in this issue of the Monthly, can be read with interest and profit by any one, though it contains the announcement of important scientific research. Professor Koch's claim that the bovine tubercle cannot develop in the human body naturally attracted much attention, as it is obviously a matter of great practical importance. Lord Kelvin, Professor Virchow and other authorities, however, do not regard Professor Koch's experiments and observations as conclusive. Attention does not seem to have been called at the congress to the important experiments of Dr. Theobald Smith, of Harvard University, published some three years ago in 'The Journal of Experimental Medicine.' These demonstrate the difference between the human and bovine tubercle bacilli.


The first brilliant comet of the century has come and gone. Although at one time so bright that it was visible in daylight, it was seen by few persons and at but two northern observatories. It was discovered, April 24, by Mr. Halls, of Queenstown, Cape Colony, and was later, but independently, discovered at the Peruvian Station of the Harvard Observatory and elsewhere. Its path lay about 20° south of the sun, so that it was especially well situated for observers in the southern hemisphere. It seems remarkable that so bright a comet could escape more general attention. Bad weather and its southern position in part account for this, but the chief reason is associated with the path of the comet, and the position in which the earth chanced to be at the time. From the interstellar spaces the comet swept into the solar system on the opposite side of the sun from the earth. On this account, doubtless, it was not seen until it had already passed perihelion. At that time it was visible in the morning. A week later it was seen in the evening sky. At one time, except for the inclination of the plane of its orbit to that of the earth, it was moving directly towards us, but, swung about by the sun's attraction, it passed between that luminary and the earth. By the middle of May the comet and the earth were moving in nearly opposite directions. For a large part of the time during which the comet was under observation, it was visible only in strong twilight. About May 5 its position was more favorable, and it was a splendid object. It has now passed out of sight. The comet is described by Mr. Innis, of the Cape Observatory, when first seen, as of a deep yellow color. The nucleus was condensed, and of about the same brightness as Mercury. It had a tail about 10° long, but no coma, or 'hair.' As soon as the comet had emerged from the evening twilight, early in May, its most unique feature became apparent. This was a faint secondary tail, which preceded the comet, as it left the sim, at an angle of about 40° from the primary tail, which had become double. The main tail at this time, according to Mr. Lunt, was about 7° long, while the faint one was three times as long, or about 25°. Between these two were also two other very faint tails. At no time did the comet approach very near to the sun, or to the earth. Good photographs of it were obtained at the Royal Observatory, Cape of Good Hope, and at the Harvard Station in Peru. This adds one more brief but interesting chapter to the history of comets; but in spite of their frequent appearance and the attention which they receive, comets still remain, in many respects, one of the unsolved astronomical puzzels.


One of the most promising of recent developments in connection with chemical and physical apparatus has been the discovery of practicable methods of working vitrified quartz. With all the serviceability of glass and porcelain, there is a real need for some plastic material, more infusible, more insoluble, more fully transparent, more elastic, and more stable under changes of temperature than glass. These needs would be supplied by quartz, were it not for the great difficulty of working it. When touched with the flame, quartz splinters so badly as to be almost unworkable, though in time past a few have used it for small objects, and some ten years ago Professor Boys introduced the use of quartz fibres, which have found several important applications in the physical laboratory. To Professor W. A. Shenstone, however, belongs the credit of having rendered practicable the working of quartz into more or less complicated apparatus. The most important step in his process is the preparation of a non-splintering silica, which he accomplishes by heating quartz in small pieces to a temperature of about 1,000°C. and then throwing it into cold water. The white, enamel-like mass obtained can then be subjected to any changes of temperature without splintering. It is worked in the hottest possible oxy-hydrogen flame, becoming plastic enough for manipulation only above the melting point of platinum. In preparing tubes the first step is a rod, which is made by fusing small pieces of silica together, one after another. This rough rod is then re-heated and drawn out into finer rods about a millimeter in diameter. These rods are then bound around a thick platinum wire and heated till they adhere to each other forming a tube which can then be drawn out and worked much as a tube of glass. By blowing a small bulb on the end of the tube, surrounding it with a ring of silica, re-heating and blowing, the tube can be lengthened or the bulb enlarged at will. From this starting point it is possible to make quite complicated apparatus.

An examination of vitrified silica reveals several properties which give it a peculiar value for many purposes. Its melting point is so high that a platinum wire imbedded in a thick silica tube can be fused so as to flow out, before the tube softens sufficiently to lose its shape. Its coefficient of expansion is far less than that of any similar substance, being only one-seventeenth that of platinum. This expansion is very regular up to 1,000°, when it diminishes rapidly up to 1,200° and from this point on it contracts. Up to 1,500° it remains practically solid. In its expansion it differs very markedly from quartz, which not only has a much higher coefficient of expansion, but which at 570° expands so rapidly that it is shattered. A rod of vitrified silica can be heated white hot and then immediately plunged into liquid air without suffering injury, indeed it gains in elasticity when thus treated. These properties promise to be of great value in the construction of thermometers. Its transparency to the ultra-violet rays of the spectrum will give it a decided advantage over glass in spectroscopic work. It is also interesting to note that tubes of silica can be heated sufficiently high for nitrogen and oxygen to unite directly on passing through them. It is, on the other hand, slightly permeable to hydrogen at a temperature of 1,000°C. Altogether vitrified silica offers an interesting field of development in the immediate future.


The following paragraph is reproduced from the 'Electrical World,' as a favorable occasion for two remarks that it has for some time seemed desirable to make:

In the current number of our esteemed contemporary, the Popular Science Monthly, which is, alas! more popular than scientific in the single particular that its pages lie largely sealed from mortal eye until separated by that anachronous atrocity—the paperknife—appears a delightful article by Professor J. J. Thomson, 'On Bodies Smaller than Atoms,' an abstract of which appears in the Digest. It is a commentary upon the spread of technical education that a paper on this most abstruse subject, and actually containing some little algebra, should find the light of day in popularized literature, and awake a gleam of recognition from the eyes of many who are not scientists. Twenty years ago such an article on such a subject would have lain on popular benches as caviare to the multitude. It is difficult to say which commands our admiration the more—the article itself, or the fact that the great world should be capable of admitting it into semi-popular literature. Either consideration presents a triumph, the one over inanimate, the other animate, nature.

The first remark concerns trimming the pages of the Monthly. It appears from the correspondence of the publication department that to trim or not to trim is a burning question. An 'anachronous atrocity' is pretty strong language, but it seems to define a widespread creed. Some people apparently do not know that there is a good scientific reason for not trimming the edges, namely, that a magazine or book that has been trimmed cannot be ; properly bound afterwards. Consequently all librarians prefer untrimmed copies, and the publishers of this magazine must provide for some fifteen hundred libraries. Then, we are not prepared to admit that it is unscientific to regard aesthetic considerations. Untrimmed copies look better to most people, and there are a few who even enjoy the use of the paperknife. This preference may be in large measure a survival; still a trimmed magazine seems to be ready for the waste-paper basket, whereas an uncut copy seems to be waiting for its place on the library shelf. Accordingly, copies of this magazine with the edges cut are supplied to the news-stands, but untrimmed copies are mailed to subscribers. Any subscriber, however, who asks for trimmed copies will receive them.

The second remark to which the editorial in the 'Electrical World' gives occasion is more important. It is indeed a matter for congratulation that this country is able to support a journal which calls itself popular and yet publishes only articles strictly scientific in character. Such a journal obviously does not appeal to children or to superficial readers; and its very existence bears witness to the presence in America of a large class of highly educated and thinking people. It may be, however, that some of those who have read the magazine for thirty years regret a certain change in its character and do not appreciate that this is simply an evolution fitting it to existing conditions. Some years ago the truths of evolution needed a fearless advocate, but when these are preached from the pulpit there is no longer need of a special organ. The daily press now publishes articles everywhere of a readable and light character on scientific topics, and no monthly magazine is complete without one or two such articles. What the country needs is a journal that will set a standard of accuracy and weight, and will separate the real advances of science from the vagaries of the charlatan. An article such as Professor Thomson's 'On Bodies Smaller than Atoms' must be read with care, but when understood, it is, as the 'Electrical World' remarks in the editorial from which we have quoted, 'more entertaining than the story of the early crusades and more astounding than those of the Arabian Nights.'


By the death of Charles Anthony Schott, the government loses one of its most distinguished officers. He was born in Germany, but was for fifty-three years connected with the U. S. Coast and Geodetic Survey. His distinguished position in the scientific world is sufficiently indicated by the fact that the Paris Academy of Sciences made to him the first award of the Wilde prize, which is given without regard to nationality for the most important researches in the physical sciences.—We regret also to record the death of H. W. Harkness, a student of the cryptogams and prominent for his services to science on the Pacific coast, having been for many years president of the California Academy of Sciences; of James Marvin, formerly professor of mathematics and astronomy and chancellor of the University of Kansas; of Williis H. Barris, known for his contributions to paleontology and long president of the Davenport Academy of Sciences; of George K. Lawton, an astronomer of the U. S. Naval Observatory, and of Charles Mohr, a well-known botanist, recently connected with the Geological Survey of Alabama.—Among foreign students of science the following deaths are announced: of Henri de Lacaze-Duthiers, the eminent French zoologist; W. Schur, professor of astronomy at Göttingen; Johannes Lamp, a geodesist of Kiel University; Henri d'Orléans, known for his geographical explorations in Asia and Africa; of C. E. Peek an English meteorologist; Eleanor A. Ormerod, the English entomologist; and Baron Adolf Erik Nordenskjöld, the Swedish arctic explorer and naturalist.

Professor Rudolf Virchow will celebrate his eightieth birthday on October 13; a research fund is being collected in his honor and he has been made a knight of the Prussian order 'pour le mérite,' this mark of imperial favor having been long delayed, apparently owing to his liberal politics.—Professor A. W. Rücker, the physicist, has been elected principal of the newly organized London University.—Two of the prizes created by the will of Alfred Nobel will be awarded to Dr. Niels R. Finsen of Denmark, for discovering the light treatment for lupus, and to Professor I. P. Pavlov, the Russian physiologist, for his researches in nutrition.—Dr. Patrick Manson has been awarded the Stewart prize of the British Medical Association for his researches in pathology and tropical diseases.

Sir John Murray has returned from a six months' expedition to Christmas Island, during which he crossed the island from end to end, the first occasion on which it has been traversed.—Prof. Frederick W. Starr, of the University of Chicago, has completed a four months' expedition among the Mexican Indians.—Professor Engler, director of the Botanical Garden at Berlin, has visited the Canary Islands, in order to study their flora.—Professor C. L. Bristol, of New York University, has left New York to direct the Biological Station at Bermuda.

An international botanical association had its first meeting at Geneva beginning on August 7.—The Fifth International Congress of Criminal Anthropology will be held in Amsterdam from September 9 to 14, 1901.—The summer session of the American Mathematical Society was held at Cornell University, Ithaca, N. Y., during the week beginning on August 19.—The American Forestry Association will hold its meeting in affiliation with the American Association at Denver on August 27, 28 and 29.

According to the census taken on March 31, the population of England and Wales was 32,525,716, being an increase of 12.15 per cent, in ten years. The increase in the preceding decennium was 11.65. The percentage increase of London was only 7.3 per cent., its population now being 4,536,034. There has, however, been a large increase in the surrounding country, the population of Middlesex having nearly doubled. The population of Ireland is 4,456,546 and of Scotland 4,471,957. The change in the population of Ireland and of Scotland in the past sixty years is remarkable:

Year. Ireland. Scotland.
1841 8,197,000 2,620,000
1851 6,574,271 2,888,742
1861 5,798,967 3,062,294
1871 5,412,377 3,360,018
1881 5,174,836 3,735,573
1891 4,704,750 4,025,647
1901 4,456,546 4,471,957