Popular Science Monthly/Volume 78/June 1911/The Progress of Science

From Wikisource
Jump to: navigation, search

THE PROGRESS OF SCIENCE

MEETINGS OF SCIENTIFIC SOCIETIES

Apart from the Christmas holidays, the month of April is the favorite season for scientific meetings. It would be the best time in the year, if it were only possible for educational institutions to agree on a week's holiday. At present some of them have a vacation at a regular time, some follow Easter and some have none. There is now active discussion on the reform of the calendar. One month with twenty-eight days is certainly undesirable, and it would be convenient if each month began on the same day of the week. A radical reform is no more unlikely than any other, and the suggestion made by Professor T. C. Chamberlin (Science, November 25, 1910) is alluring. It is to have twelve months of 28 days with an extra week at the close of each quarter, Christmas week having an added day with another extra day on leap year. Southern nations may be over-fond of holidays, but life is almost too monotonous in the sober north. It might be well if each quarter were followed by a week in which the routine business of life were interrupted—Christmas week for family reunions, Easter week for religious and scientific gatherings, Julien week for national and international celebrations, the autumn week for harvest and labor festivals. While we wait, probably in vain, for such a reform, educational institutions might, and to a certain extent have adopted the plan of four quarters with a week's intermission. Concentrated effort might give us a week in the spring for scientific meetings.

The National Academy of Sciences holds its annual stated meeting in Washington, beginning on the third Tuesday in April, and almost justifies its existence by the time of meeting, as members from further north are likely then to come into the fullness of the spring. The academy is in the main of interest to its limited membership. It is possible that the honor of election stimulates to scientific research, though it can scarcely be so effective in this direction as would be the case if the work of the academy were better known and if there were some more tangible advantage in membership, as is the case in some of the continental academies, where the members receive salaries from the government. If research is to be accomplished it must be paid for in some way, and there is much to be said for the endowment of individuals through an institution such as the National Academy of Sciences.

At present the official function of the academy as the scientific adviser of the government is hardly exercised. Indeed it is not clear how it could be to advantage when the government has in its own employment hundreds of scientific men. Nor can it be said that the programs of scientific papers are of great interest. Important research work is presented each year, but probably not more important than before the special scientific societies, and it has now become very difficult for scientific work in all directions to be presented before a single group of individuals.

Following the meeting of the National Academy in Washington, the American Philosophical Society of Philadelphia has in recent years arranged a meeting which has assumed national importance. The program of scientific papers is larger than at Washington, the society is fortunate in

 
PSM V78 D626 John William Draper.png
 

having its own historic building for its meetings, and the city is generous in its hospitality. The papers presented are of the same high standing and the same mixed character as at Washington.

The spring is also the time chosen for the meetings of some of the state academies of science. A glance at the program of one of these, such as the Michigan Academy of Sciences, shows that it contains an almost bewildering array of papers. These are, however, presented before several sections and thus have a more homogeneous attendance and better chance for discussion. An interesting event this year was the joint meeting of the different scientific and learned societies of California, which will doubtless hereafter become an annual event on the Pacific coast.

 

THE CENTENARY OF THE BIRTH OF JOHN WILLIAM DRAPER

The centenary of the birth of John William Draper, which occurred on the fifth of May, was celebrated with adequate ceremonies and addresses by New York University, where he was professor from 1837 until his death in 1882, and where two of his sons were also professors.

Draper was the son of an English Wesleyan clergyman. He came to America at the age of twenty-one, and graduated as doctor of medicine from the University of Pennsylvania in 1836. His work covered a wide field. He made important researches in chemistry, physics and physiology. He wrote text-books and taught these subjects, being a leader in medical education. He took an important part in the development of two of the most important advances of applied science—electrical telegraphy and photography. Later he turned his attention to philosophical and historical subjects. His history of the intellectual development of Europe and his history of the conflict between religion and science have been widely read and are of great

PSM V78 D627 Dorothy Catherine Draper.png

Autotype of the Earliest Sunlight Picture of a Human Face.
Miss Dorothy Catherine Draper, taken by her brother. Professor John William Draper, M.D., LL.D., early in 1840. The original daguerreotype is the property of Sir William John Herschel.

 
PSM V78 D628 Henry Pickering Bowditch.png
Henry Pickering Bowditch.
 

influence, having appeared in manj editions and having been translated into a dozen different languages. Finally he devoted ten years of his life to a history of the American civil war.

Draper's early scientific work was concerned with the chemical action of light. In 1837 he investigated the growth of plants exposed to the light of the solar spectrum. He at that time also studied the action of light in changing the color of metallic salts and applied the photographic process to the solution of physical problems. When Daguerre 's discovery was announced he improved the process and took in 1840 the first portrait of the human face, at a time when this was regarded as impossible in Europe. In the same year he took the first photograph of the surface of the moon. Draper was also the first to obtain photographs of the diffraction spectrum, and of the ultra-red and ultraviolet lines. In 1857 he wrote that the occurrence of lines in the spectrum is connected with the chemical nature of the substance and that "if we are ever able to acquire certain knowledge respecting the physical state of the sun and other stars, it will be by an examination of the light they emit." It is an interestitng fact that his son, Henry Draper, in 1872, was the first to obtain photographs of the fixed lines in the spectra of stars.

Draper's work in physiology was of importance; he made many new discoveries and consistently used physicochemical explanation in the place of the vitalism of those days. In like manner he applied causal principles to the evolution of society. Draper played an important part in the development of modern science at a time when America was represented by but few leaders.

 

HENRY PICKERING BOWDITCH

Henry Pickering Bowditch was a member of one of those families which in Boston and in Philadelphia have maintained the traditions of the English aristocracy. His grandfather was the eminent mathematician, Nathaniel Bowditch, and his father and his brothers have like himself always been ready in the performance of public service. Bowditch was born in Boston in 1840; on graduating from Harvard College in 1861 he volunteered for service in the civil war, and at its close retired as major of the Fifth Massachusetts Cavalry. He then passed through the Lawrence Scientific School and the Harvard Medical School and spent three years abroad working under Carl Ludwig at Leipzig. When he returned to Boston in 1871 the chair of anatomy and physiology held by Oliver Wendell Holmes was divided, physiology being assigned to Bowditch. For thirty-five years he was a leader in education and research in the medical sciences, and the physiological laboratory that he founded was the pioneer of laboratories in the medical sciences. He was largely responsible for the medical school building, completed in 1883, the laboratories of which were admirably equipped for that time, and again was largely responsible for the magnificent buildings and laboratories of the new medical school opened in 1906, the year in which, owing to failing health, he became professor emeritus. As dean of the medical school and in other ways he exercised an enormous influence on the improvement of medical education and medical science in this country. His own researches on the growth of children, on vision, on the knee jerk and on other subjects were of great importance, but in a brief biographical notice, it seems more fitting to dwell on his great public services for physiology, for medical education, for the city and for the country. Of his personality Professor Charles S. Minot, a student under him and for many years his colleague, says: "He found great happiness in his home life, in his children and grandchildren, and also in the numerous friends, whom he attached not only by his unusual abilities but by his personal charm. He was social by nature, keenly humorous, warm and faithful in his attachments, full of the zest of life. He was profoundly modest and seemed never to know how high his abilities were estimated by others. He never quarrelled, but was for every good cause he championed a good fighter. Perhaps his most distinguishing trait was his remarkable combination of keen practical sense in the use of means with enthusiasm in the pursuit of ideal aims. With all his buoyant vitality, with all his eager interest in men and affairs, he was essentially an idealist, who won the love and admiration of many friends both in Europe and America."

 

SCIENTIFIC ITEMS

We record with regret the deaths of Dr. Herman Knapp, professor emeritus of ophthalmology in Columbia University; of Dr. Charles Stedman Bull, professor of ophthalmology in the medical department of Cornell University; of Mr. T. Rupert Jones, F.R.S., formerly professor of geology at Sandhurst; of Major George Lamb, director of the Pasteur Institute of India, and of Dr. Pehr Olsson-Seffer, botanist of the Mexican government, murdered by brigands in the Mexican insurrection.

At the meeting of the National Academy of Sciences on April 20, the following were elected to membership: Edward Emerson Barnard, astronomer, "Yerkes Observatory, Williams Bay, Wis.; Edward Burr Van Meek, professor of mathematics. University of Wisconsin; John Filmore Hayford, director of the College of Engineering, Northwestern University; Edwin Herbert Hall, professor of physics. Harvard University; Julius Oscar Steiglitz, professor of chemistry. University of Chicago; Bertram Borden Boltwood, professor of radio-chemistry, Yale University; James Furman Kemp, professor of geology, Columbia University; Arthur Louis Day, director of the Geophysical Laboratory of the Carnegie Institution; Robert Aimer Harper, professor of botany at the University of Wisconsin. Foreign associates were elected as follows: Professor Ernest Rutherford, University of Manchester, England; Professor Vito Volterra, University of Rome, Italy. At the annual dinner of the academy on April 19 the Draper Gold Medal was presented to Mr. C. G. Abbot, of the Smithsonian Institution, for his researches on the infra-red region of the solar spectrum and his accurate measurements, by improved devices, of the solar "constant" of radiation.

Sir J. J. Thomson, Cavendish professor of experimental physics in the University of Cambridge, and Dr. D. Hilbert, professor of mathematics at Göttingen, have been elected corresponding members of the Paris Academy of Sciences.

Dr. Frederic A. Lucas, curator in chief of the Museum of the Brooklyn Institute, and formerly curator of the U. S. National Museum, has been elected director of the American Museum of Natural History.—Dr. Elmer Ellsworth Brown, U. S. Commissioner of Education, has been elected chancellor of New York University.