Popular Science Monthly/Volume 78/March 1911/The Work of the Chemist in Conservation
|THE WORK OF THE CHEMIST IN CONSERVATION|
By Professor ELBERT W. ROCKWOOD
STATE UNIVERSITY OF IOWA
AMONG business firms it is the custom at regular intervals to stop and take an inventory of the stock on hand, to set opposite one another the income and expenses of the past, and to strike a balance which shall show the condition of the institution. "Within the past few years this country has been engaged in such a stock-taking of its natural resources and we have reports from various quarters as to its condition, showing that its affairs, in respect to these resources, have been recklessly managed and that without a change in its methods it is rapidly traveling toward insolvency.
We learn that the end of our mineral deposits is in sight; that the United States produces every five years as much iron as the whole world in the 350 years previous to 1850; that in 1907 over 100 times as much steel was made as in 1874; that our coal, which was millions of years in formation, is being dissipated in hundreds, and even in tens. We are told that the next generation may see the end of our anthracite coal and that, while the bituminous may last ten times as long, the limit of the amount available can be closely calculated.
Recent developments in the use of petroleum as a fuel have been rapid. This is also true of its derivative, gasoline, which, up to the present time, is the only satisfactory fuel to furnish energy for aviation and one of the most successful in boats, automobile motors and for many other purposes. Such an enormous demand has been created that the United States Geological Survey predicts that the known supplies of petroleum can not last more than about fifty years. The closely related natural gas is being used at an alarming rate and no scientist claims that its production approaches the rate of its consumption. Charcoal as a source of heat is practically negligible. Our forests are disappearing—half a million acres annually for railroad ties; fifteen acres for a single issue of a metropolitan newspaper; an estimated total consumption of wood amounting to one hundred thousand million board feet.
This depletion of our resources is perhaps a necessary accompaniment to the demands of an increasing national prosperity; but the case has an even darker side. The waste of material is terrific. The Anthracite Coal Waste Commission reported in 1893 that "for every ton produced one and one half tons were lost." That is due to our carelessness: to our limited knowledge is due the waste of over ninety per cent, of the energy of the coal burned under our steam boilers but not given out by the connected engine.
In the preparation of blast-furnace coke from coal by far the greater part of the by-products are not saved. Thus Bogart states that in 1907 62,000,000 tons of coal were coked, but only 14 per cent, in such a way as to recover the by-products; that by this process there were wasted 148 billion cubic feet of gas worth 22 million dollars, 450,000 tons of ammonium sulphate of as great value and tar to the value of nine million dollars, and that the gases lost annually in the coke industry have a calorific power equal to four billion kilowatts, or three billion horse power. As to natural gas, the United States Geological Survey accepts the judgment of State Geologist White, of West Virginia, that not less than one billion feet are wasted daily. "This," he says, "equals the annual consumption of natural gas reported for 1907. This waste should furnish light for half the urban population of the United States."
Of our forests thousands of acres are destroyed each year by fire and, in addition, a large part of the cut is left to rot as stumps, tops and branches, only the best part of the trees being used. The story of the soil has been similar; we have raised crop after crop from it, robbing it of the elements which the plant must have for the building of its tissues. Of all except three of these the average soil has a sufficiency, but potassium, phosphoric acid and combined nitrogen are frequently deficient. Inasmuch as plants can not thrive unless all their needs are provided for, it follows that these must be supplied if they are in any degree lacking. At present we are drawing heavily upon our resources of all three. Potassium, in early days derived from wood ashes, is now being taken from the immense deposits at Stassfurt; but it is a well-known fact that recently the German government has taken measures to largely prevent the exportation of their output. Phosphoric acid has been furnished by our mineral phosphates, which have been recklessly drawn upon for domestic use as well as for exportation until the supply is sadly impaired.
Some species of plants can utilize the free nitrogen of the atmosphere, but most of them can assimilate this necessary element only when it has been previously combined with others in such compounds as saltpeter, ammonium salts or organic matters. One of these, Peruvian guano, has already disappeared. The great deposits of sodium nitrate—Chile saltpeter—on the west coast of South America are being fast removed. Nearly one hundred million dollars' worth are shipped in a year and thirty to forty years will probably see the last of this supply. No other known deposits can replace it. The ammonium salts from our gas-works are totally inadequate to the demand. These are but typical wastes.
Our improvidence is shown in other fields. Our average mortality is high, exceptionally so among infants. Take an example near home. In the month of July last 245 infants under one year of age died in the state of Iowa, 109 of cholera infantum. Last August there were in the same state 1,785 deaths: of these 472 (more than one fourth) were nnder 5 years of age; of these 350 (about one fifth of the total) were under one year. Of the infants 291 died of cholera infantum, a disease difficult to cure but nevertheless recognized by sanitarians as entirely preventable. Illness is frequent in the whole country. According to the Report of the Committee of One Hundred on National Vitality, three million people in the United States are at all times seriously ill, half a million of tuberculosis. Drugs and stimulants are used excessively; food, improper in quantity, or in the kind and proportions of its nutrients, is often the rule, thus lowering human vitality and decreasing efficiency.
The food and water that we eat and drink, the atmosphere that we breathe, are deteriorating. The mere mention of food adulterations will suffice. Our industrial waste products are poured into our streams; our sewage and garbage, for the most part, directly or indirectly, share the same fate. The quality of our inland waters is therefore steadily deteriorating. We can depend less and less upon our rivers, springs and shallow wells for domestic and city water supplies. Even the industries where a pure or an impure water represents the difference between a high grade and an unsatisfactory product, are seriously hampered by being limited to a badly polluted water for steam making and other purposes. Many of our fresh-water fishes have become locally exterminated, particularly in the eastern manufacturing sections, and many a smiling river, and pleasant stream, have become converted into mere open sewers which carry away, more or less efficiently, unidentifiable contaminations.
The pollution of the atmosphere has increased with civilization. Not only are the gases from our heating and power plants blown into the air with half-consumed matters in the shape of soot and cinders, but from chemical industries acid gases and other noxious products are allowed to escape and to drift whither they will. The sulphur dioxide from the smelters destroys vegetation, including forests, for miles around. When these are gone denudation commences and rapidly progresses until the region appears a veritable desert. Arsenious oxide is usually found in such gases, and not only aids in the destruction of the vegetable world, but, over great areas, leaves the marks of acute or chronic poisoning upon the animals that graze within the district and upon human beings that breathe the air. In comparison with these effects the pecuniary loss from materials lost in smelter smoke may seem unimportant, but measured in dollars and cents it is considerable. Take, for example, bismuth for which there is a steady commercial demand. According to a conservative estimate, in the smoke of the great Washoe smelter at Anaconda there are lost 880 pounds daily. Considering that 10,000 pounds represents the annual American production, it is evident that eleven days would see a waste equal to a year's output of our mines.
Such is the black picture that is painted for us. What of the future? Must the human race abandon a large part of the earth's surface, which it has conquered, because of insufficient means to maintain its bodily warmth? Or must it become a race of troglodytes, dragging out its degenerate existence in the caverns of the earth? Will our agriculture deteriorate, little by little, until the scanty crops from an impoverished soil hardly support a degraded people? Or will the air and water become so polluted that the race, if it be not so modified as to meet the new conditions, must become extinct? Is our boasted civilization only a myth, the growth of which leads inevitably to destruction?
Can our natural resources be so conserved as to supply the immediate and the future needs of the nation? Of what avail is our science which we have so often exalted, and how far can it help us in the solution of this perplexing problem?
We must see that the only conservation which can avail is conservation with utilization, a concept which was clearly set forth by President Taft in his recent St. Paul address:
The idea should not be allowed to prevail that conservation is the tying up of the natural resources of the government or indefinite withholding from use. Real conservation involves wise, non-wasteful use in the present generation, with every possible means of preservation for succeeding generations.
As we face the problem can we say, as did Patrick Henry, of political questions, "I know of no way of judging of the present but by the past," and, judging by the past, has our science achieved anything which should give us unshakable confidence in its power to meet this crisis? Let us look back into the not too distant past of science for the answer. It comes from many parts of her realm. I may perhaps be pardoned if I draw most of my illustrations from that field with which I am most familiar.
While science has met the demands of the time as they have arisen she does not, as a rule, much anticipate them. It was only after years of extensive working of the saltpeter deposits of South America that in 1889 Sir William Crookes brought home to the civilized world the true significance of the situation—that the supply of combined nitrogen was approaching exhaustion; that this meant the cessation of plant and animal life, and that to avert such a calamity new sources of these compounds must be sought. At the time one means of relief was suggested by him—the fixation of atmospheric nitrogen, that is, the conversion of this gas, inert and non-utilizable, into nitrogen compounds which could be assimilated by the plant and from this pass to the animal for the building and repair of its tissues. There was the problem for the chemical engineer and the chemical engineer has worked out its solution. The principle employed is to burn the nitrogen of the atmosphere through the agency of the oxygen, by passing the air through a flaming electric discharge. Although this sounds simple, the commercial operation was most complex. The shape and size of the electrodes and their container, the correlation of quantity and intensity of the electric current, of the temperature and volume of air, all demanded patient care as well as expert knowledge. Not only must oxidation be controllable, but the costs must be studied and reduced until a commercial success was assured. The first companies did not succeed and went into bankruptcy, but now, using the power of the mountain streams of Norway and the Tyrol, the nitrogen of the air yields its freedom and leaves the factory as calcium nitrate and sodium nitrate, which go to be mixed with the other constituents of artificial plant foods, or as nitric acid, which is used in so many technical processes. There are now in operation chemical plants which can place upon the world's markets annually 100,000 tons of pure calcium nitrate thus obtained through the use of atmospheric nitrogen.
While one group of chemists were following this solution of the nitrogen problem others had taken another line, influenced partly by a different motive. This was the development and an outgrowth of the calcium carbide industry. After the French chemist, Moissan's, brilliant work upon the production of carbides by the electric furnace the field was occupied commercially and in many places where cheap waterpower could be obtained—Niagara Falls, Norway, Switzerland and others—calcium carbide was made for acetylene lighting. The annual output is about 200,000 tons. But this is more than is called for in the preparation of acetylene. There must be some way of using the excess, and the services of the chemist were in demand.
When free nitrogen is led over calcium carbide at the proper temperature it is absorbed, forming calcium cyanamide. The latter is decomposable by steam, its nitrogen being evolved as ammonia, a valuable plant food. There is the same decomposition when the calcium cyanamide is placed in the ground; the decomposition is then so slow that the ammonia does not escape into the air, but is held in the soil until it is utilized by the plant.
Thus the chemist has built another bridge over the gulf between free and combined nitrogen, cyanamide, or "nitrolime," acting as the middle pier. Nearly 200,000 tons can be annually furnished by the works now built or under construction.
Thus chemists and chemical engineers have answered the demand of the hour. With the boundless atmospheric nitrogen and with water power, the development of which has scarcely begun, man need never fear an insufficient nitrogenous food supply.
We are inclined to lament because of the extent to which some of our limited natural resources, such as iron, are being drawn upon. But if we compare the condition of the people of the United States now with that at the time when these resources were comparatively untouched we must admit that their use has added immensely to human comfort and progress, and that this increased comfort could have been gained in no other manner. In addition we must consider that, although much material is being used, the processes of putting it upon the market are gaining immensely in economy of operation through the studies of scientific men, and that much that we were in the habit of discarding is now used repeatedly. So that the total amounts taken from their terrestrial storehouses does not fairly represent the loss to humanity.
For instance, since the time of Tubal Cain until about the end of the fifteenth century iron ores were reduced in a crude forge where the yield ran from 100 to 300 pounds per charge—far less than a ton per day. Compare the continuous process of the modern blast-furnace producing 75,000 or more tons annually and think how many conveniences we should be deprived of if we were still limited to the primitive methods. Compare also the price per ton of pig iron from the old and the present processes and no doubt will remain that wastefulness is relatively immensely less in the iron industry now than then. Nor is iron once used discarded, but it is worked over into new forms and employed for other purposes.
Previous to 1856 the only means of producing steel was to laboriously remove the carbon from the pig iron in the puddling furnace, roll the iron into bars, slowly add the requisite carbon again by heating the two together for days, and melting or hammering to get a homogeneous product. But in 1856 Henry Bessemer announced his process for making steel from pig iron in one operation, a process so simple that we please ourselves by thinking that we might have invented it if it had not previously been done. Bessemer found it necessary only to burn out from the molten crude iron the impurities, carbon and silicon, by a blast of air forced into the bottom of his crucible, just as we stimulate the burning of fuel in our fireplaces by the use of a bellows. No fuel was added as the heat from the burning impurities was adequate to keep the mass melted until the change was complete. To the purified iron thus obtained he added the requisite amount of carbon and, in half an hour, had a dozen tons of steel. The price of steel rails before and after the Bessemer process came into vogue is a testimony not only to the knowledge of the metallurgist, but to the saving in time, labor and fuel, a real conservation of resources. More recently as high grade ores suitable for the Bessemer process are becoming scarcer the metallurgist has added to his equipment the open-hearth furnace in which ores of a much inferior quality can be smelted.
The history of aluminum offers an even more striking illustration. For many years after it was isolated by Wöhler from its fused halogen compounds through the addition of metallic potassium it was somewhat of a chemical curiosity. Owing to the high cost of potassium the lowest price at which it could be sold was several dollars an ounce. It could not be bought in any large quantity. I distinctly remember the pride with which one of my earliest teachers of chemistry was wont to exhibit to his classes a piece of aluminum about as large as his finger, and with what delight he would tell of Wöhler's custom, in saying good-bye to his newly made doctors of philosophy, of bestowing upon those with whom he was particularly pleased a piece of the precious metal, this being such a fragment. That was not many years ago; yet in 1907 there were produced in this country 17,000,000 pounds which sold for about five million dollars—less than 30 cents a pound. And this was the answer of chemists and metallurgists to the demand for a light, permanent metal at moderate cost. What the future of aluminum may be we do not know. But being in abundance, the second of the solid elements and twice as large in amount as iron, its compounds can not possibly be exhausted.
Alizarin, which is one of the important vegetable dyes, was formerly obtained from madder, the root of a plant growing abundantly in the south of France and some other Mediterranean countries. The demand for it increased until thousands of acres were given over to the cultivation of the Rubia tinctorum. But in 1868 two chemists, Graebe and Liebermann, after long study, succeeded in preparing alizarin synthetically from anthraquinon, a coal-tar derivative. It drove from the market the natural alizarin. There was an outcry from those who had cultivated the crude material that their means of livelihood had been destroyed. But thenceforward the fertile fields which had been devoted to its growth were used to furnish foodstuffs to the country. A waste substance had been used and the old energy turned into better channels.
A similar history is that of indigo, one of the standard dyestuffs of our grandmothers—a product of the indigo plant. Adolf von Baeyer, chemist, of Munich, in 1870 overcame the difficulties of its synthetic formation and, from coal-tar again, by complicated methods prepared this substance, one of the most stable of our dyes. Other chemists have simplified the process until now it is formed in the factory, a rival of that from the field, and thus large tracts of land are released for other forms of agriculture.
If the past achievements of science give us hope that it can stay the drain upon our resources, we can gain encouragement by examining its present activities.
While doubtless much fuel has been wasted it is now being used much more economically than formerly. There is a tendency to centralize the evolution of heat and other forms of energy produced from burning coal. A large proportion of our coal is used in locomotives for the purpose of hauling more coal to the place of consumption. This can be saved by carrying the energy from the coal fields as electricity or gas. Even the conversion of coal into producer gas at the place it is used is a great advantage. The lowest grades of coal are employed, such as lignite, slack and culm, and the gas gives several times as much energy under a boiler as would the coal from which it is made. Again, our culm piles, the accumulations of years, are being moulded at slight expense into briquettes which are in many respects superior to coal as a fuel.
As a substitute for our vanishing gasoline we are looking toward alcohol. Although at present it can not compete in price, new sources are being sought by the chemist and it will undoubtedly become cheaper. Not only can the crude material for its manufacture be obtained from the grains but working processes have been announced, starting from the cellulose of sawdust and peat.
I need only refer to the value of our water power. It has been estimated that the United States has about 40 million horse power which is now available and four times this which can be developed. To get an equal amount of energy from our steam plants would require over 3,000 million tons of coal. Or, to state it in another way, by developing this water power, now not utilized, over three thousand million tons of coal can be saved—about four times our annual consumption.
With a possibility of the disappearance of available petroleum and even of coal, substitutes for these have been ardently sought in recent years or, if not complete substitutes, attempts are being made to find something which will decrease their excessive use.
As we all know, the luminosity of illuminating gas is due to minute particles of carbon which are heated to incandescence. A substitution of other solid materials in the hotter, though non-luminous, flame of the Bunsen burner—lime, platinum and zirconium—met with failures. Then came a German chemist, Auer von Welsbach, and discovered, through extensive investigations with the oxides of the rare earths, that while neither thorium nor cerium oxides were highly luminous, if one per cent, of cerium oxide is added to thorium oxide the product glows at high temperatures with great intensity. The gas mantle and incandescent light were the result, and with them a far greater degree of illumination, with the use of a fraction of the gas formerly used.
We are all acquainted with the results of the labors of science in the fields of acetylene and electric lighting, where energy is furnished by water power or where cheap coal can be burned miles away from the dazzling lights. Every city has its object lesson. Only one instance will be spoken of.
The deficiencies of the carbon-filament incandescent electric light bulb are known to all of us—its reddish light, its decrease in brilliancy with use, its comparatively short life and rather low efficiency. Most of us can testify to the superiority of the tungsten bulb, one of the latest productions of the chemist and electrician—its white light, its long life with but slightly lessened intensity, the comparatively low cost of the light per candle power.
From a relatively slightly known substance—material for the mineralogist's collection—the use of tungsten has rapidly increased. Forty-six tons of its ore were mined in the United States in 1900; in 1907, 1,640 tons; truly, in comparison with iron, copper and lead, an insignificant amount. But when we remember that one pound will make thousands of electric-light filaments we can comprehend that revolutionary results may follow. The ore is widely distributed in the Rocky Mountains, as far north as Alaska, and no prophecy can be made as to when it may become exhausted.
Tungsten has many other uses possibly less known to you; among them, as a material for small crucibles to be used in the electric furnace, and as a modifier of the properties of steel, the latter probably the most valuable. Tool steel containing tungsten holds its temper at high temperatures. Tools with a tungsten content of 16 per cent, to 20 per cent, can be used with the lathe running at such a speed that the chips are blued from the heat yet the temper of the tool is not affected. That is, in consequence of the high speed, about five times as much work can be accomplished as when high carbon steels are used, one man's labor being thus multiplied by five. Here again the metallurgical chemist has shown himself equal to the demand upon him, a demand for a new means of decreasing the drain upon a part of our resources.
What about the forests? Personally I have no fear. Aside from the methods of scientific forestry, which must necessarily come, other forces are acting. Although the chemist uses forest products as a source of supply, he need not be feared. He can utilize the waste wood—the stumps, the chips, the branches, the sawdust, material fit for nothing else. And he is daily perfecting chemical products to take the place of wood. Cement is one of these; of this the amount is increasing and the cost diminishing. In 1908 we made in the United States 51,073,612 barrels of Portland cement at a cost of $43,547,679, an increase over the preceding year of over two and a quarter million barrels with a decrease in cost of more than ten million dollars. In 1909 somewhat over sixty-two and one half million barrels were manufactured at about 80 cents per barrel as compared with 85 cents in 1908.
We are so accustomed to our wooden houses that we dread to have to give them up even when we know that in many other countries they are almost unknown. We are unmindful of Ruskin's dictum, "I would have our ordinary houses built to last," as well as, "built to be lovely, as rich and full of pleasantness as may be within and without." We are regardless of the thought that, instead of erecting a structure which can endure 50 to 100 years, it may be better to build for 500 to 1,000 years or more.
In other ways the chemist is conserving the forests; by guarding against one of the greatest dangers to our wooden edifices—fire—through fire-proofing processes, and against their bacterial foes, which cause decay, through wood preservatives. As to stopping the journey of our forests to the paper-mill, it appears not to be the time for that yet, but chemists are finding ways of replacing wood fiber in paper by others, notably those of grasses. Even if it should prove beyond the skill of the chemist and engineer to continue our present output of paper from the dwindling wood supply and should most of our Sunday papers be forced to curtail their issues, who will see in that any dire calamity?
Cement is frequently used to preserve not only wood, but in many places iron, and so conserves this material. Where more strength is required than concrete possesses, iron surrounded by cement has been found to last indefinitely. The process of reducing the crude iron from the ores has been steadily improved so that now, through such means as using the heat formerly wasted from the blast furnace to heat the air of the blast, to make steam and to dry the air before it is blown into the furnace, but a fraction of the coal is required that was formerly necessary. Similar savings have been made in other parts of the metallurgical field; for instance, in the recovery of gold and silver during the treatment of copper and lead ores, several million dollars worth being thus annually obtained, and this by the old methods would have been for the most part wasted.
The loss of by-products in the manufacture of coke has been referred to; but closer chemical supervision is rapidly reducing this. In 1905 over thirty-seven million tons of coal were coked in the United States, but less than 9 per cent, in ovens where these by-products were preserved. Two years later the amount coked in by-product ovens had increased about one half.
Foreign chemical engineers are setting us a praiseworthy example. In Gelsenkirchen, Germany, the coke ovens furnish illuminating gas to surrounding cities and villages at 23 cents per 1,000 cubic feet. Each ton of coal yields three to three and one half gallons of benzene, a valuable substitute for gasoline as a producer of heat and energy. From the recovered tar are separated naphthalene, toluene and anthracene from which are derived the brilliant coal-tar colors and many synthetic medicinal compounds, also disinfectants and preservatives like carbolic and benzoic acids. In Germany the coal coked so that the by-products could be recovered was 30 per cent, in 1900; 82 per cent, in 1909.
Our chemists are devising means to prevent the contamination of the atmosphere by industrial wastes. Witness the Sulphur, Copper and Iron Company at Ducktown, Tenn, whose blast furnace gases contain a high percentage of sulphur dioxide because of the abundance of sulphur in the ores. Instead of, as formerly, allowing this to escape to poison the surrounding vegetation it is caught and converted into sulphuric acid. One hundred and sixty tons are produced daily, of high purity; a waste product has been converted into an article of commerce for which there is a constant demand.
In agriculture the general outlook is highly encouraging. True, much time will pass before the agricultural chemist is estimated at his real value, but even now the farmer is making use of his assistance and asking for his aid with increasing frequency. He is learning that the old "rule-of-thumb" methods are unprofitable, and when he is convinced that science can more abundantly fill his purse, the end that we desire is in sight. It is within the remembrance of most of us what a change has taken place in Iowa, within the past fifteen or twenty years with respect to fertilizers—the putting back into the bosom of mother nature the nourishing elements of which our crops have deprived her. Fortunately our farms are still exceptionally fertile and by scientific treatment we of Iowa may not be reduced to that dependence upon artificial plant food which is so painfully noticeable in New England and other eastern states. But our pride in our soil should not lead us to overlook our imperfections. When we know that our average wheat crop is, for the country, only twelve to fifteen bushels to the acre, that of England, the Netherlands and Denmark over twice that and that on some of our experimental farms it runs up to seventy to eighty bushels, it should make us pause for serious reflection. On the other hand, if, as we are told, the average crop of the Romans was but four to five bushels we can take courage and strive for better results.
I have spoken of new means of getting nitrogen, one of the three plant nutrients most apt to be deficient. A second, potassium, occurs abundantly in feldspars in a comparatively insoluble form. Recent experiments by chemists, however, indicate that through very fine grinding the door is unlocked which will set it free in a form which the plant can assimilate. For the third nutrient, phosphoric acid, we must probably depend upon re-using that taken up by the plant or upon undeveloped deposits. Happily, we have such ones. Announcement has just been made by geologists of large phosphate beds in several of our western states. Knowing how nearly we have approached phosphate poverty we can take measures to more properly protect them.
With these materials, with the systematic study which is being carried on in government laboratories, in experiment stations, in agricultural colleges and universities of the chemistry of the soil and of the food and metabolism of plants, with the industry of the fertilizer chemists, and with the awakening of the farmer to the needs of such knowledge, we can hopefully expect a bountiful food supply for the world's table.
The aid of science is noteworthy in increasing human vitality,—one of the principal factors in national efficiency, and a form of conservation. In the sixteenth century the average length of human life is estimated as being between 18 and 20 years; to-day it is between 38 and 40 years. Modern hygiene is markedly lowering mortality and lessening illness. Compare the former death rate of Havana, 50 to 100 per 1,000, with the present one which is but little more than that of our northern cities. Note the disappearance of yellow fever and cholera from the Isthmus of Panama and the fall of the death rate to one third of that of the French administration. Known to everybody is the successful fight which is being waged to decrease the ravages of small-pox, tuberculosis, diphtheria, meningitis and the hook-worm.
The food of the nation is being studied as never before by hundreds of chemists; the actual needs of the body are being determined, the kinds and amounts of food adapted to particular conditions are learned, dangerous and adulterated foods are proscribed. Through the studies of milk and children's foods by physiological chemists the mortality of infants has been greatly diminished. In all these conflicts against disease the chemists are in the front of the battle. A strenuous campaign of education must be carried on, but already the light begins to shine into the dark places.
In this broad field of conservation where the opportunities for labor are so great how are we, as educators, doing our part? Are we merely applying our scientific knowledge, or are we also training others for service—the young people of this university?Regardless of current discussions as to woman's proper place in the social fabric, it is certain that society has caused her to specialize as the conserver of the home. Her position may be modified in the future, but it will be long years before she abdicates this regal station. I do not mean that she should remain a household drudge, confined to the walls of the kitchen, nor do I intimate that all women can, or care to, be so distinguished. But Woman—das Ewig-Weibliche—is destined long to preside, the goddess of the family, as in the days of Solomon, the Wise, for, as then.
Her price is far above rubies.
Her children arise up and call her blessed;
Her husband also, and he praiseth her.
In common with other large universities we are doing our best for the young men, preparing them for the professions or the business to which they will be called—physicians, lawyers, dentists, engineers, chemists, accountants—fitting them to aid in the conservation of material resources, of liberty and of life.
When we are asked regarding our stewardship of the young women a discreet silence may be the safest reply. We are giving them disciplinary studies, a general education in subjects interesting alike to man or woman, an opportunity to develop the social instincts, to gain by association with educated people, and to become more at ease in society. But we look in vain for a careful training in the field where woman should be supreme, an opportunity for any detailed study of chemistry with the related sections of physics, bacteriology and physiology, as applied to food and diet, disinfection and disease, particularly diseases of children, general prophylaxis, sanitary construction, the disposal of wastes, and the manifold other problems of the home. As homekeeper much of the financial success of the average family will depend upon her. Where is she getting the instruction? Most men are only indirectly interested in such problems and therefore if woman can not, or will not, solve them they will be unsuccessfully met. It is true that most of them are merely applications of scientific principles, and that somewhere in the university these principles are taught. Yet nowhere are they correlated to make a systematic course for this large proportion of our students. The men of the University of Iowa may make good husbands, but, as a rule, they will not be able dieticians; the women may make the best of wives but, in that case, the university can claim but a small part of the credit for it. The University of Iowa is missing its great opportunity.
In all this I am not pleading for the special training of teachers and experts; only for aid in the conservation which shall supply our needs, through the symmetrical development of our students and their best preparation for their life-work.
I have spoken of a few of the means used by science to conserve our resources, but they are typical of hundreds of others carried on all over the world by thousands of men with chemical training and working by scientific methods. From this present activity we can look ahead and predict some of the tasks next to be accomplished. Were the time sufficient, it would be interesting to discuss them—the probability of the synthetic production in the laboratory of many of our foods now only formed by the slow processes of nature; a system of intensive agriculture whereby our crops will be increased many fold; more perfect means of storage and preservation of foods so that we may at any time avail ourselves of them in their natural freshness; the almost complete control of disease; the utilization of the hitherto uncontrolled energy of the sun through the collection of its heat; and the practical use of the force of the tides. These, however, we shall have to pass by for the present. Nor shall I dwell upon the possibilities of that almost unknown force locked up in the atom and revealing itself as radioactivity, far superior to any other known power. Whether we shall ever be able to liberate and control it we can not even surmise.
In all this I have emphasized the materialistic side, the gaining of dollars and cents, of all that can contribute to comfort and ease, and all to result from applied science. Do not, therefore, regard me as belittling that other aspect—the pursuit of knowledge for its own sake, the irrepressible striving to raise one's self through earnest effort toward the level of the Omniscient, the feeling of Paracelsus in his laboratory,
I still must hoard and heap and class all truths
With one ulterior purpose: I must know!
for night is come
And I betake myself to study again,
Till patient searchings after hidden lore
Half wring some bright truth from its prison; my frame
Trembles, my forehead's veins swell out, my hair
Tingles for triumph. Slow and sure the morn
Shall break on my pent room and dwindling lamp
And furnace dead, and scattered earths and ores;
When, with a failing heart and throbbing brow,
I must review my captured truth, sum up
Its value, trace what end to what begins,
Its present power with eventual bearings,
Latent affinities, the view it opens.
And its full length in perfecting my scheme.
For our hearts still harmonize with the outcry of the alchemist,
I shall arrive! what time, what circuit first,
I ask not: but unless God send his hail
Or blinding fireballs, sleet or stifling snow,
In some time, his good time, I shall arrive.
He guides me and the bird. In his good time!
And it is through this patient and persistent toil that in the future, as in the past, man will triumph over the forces of nature,
For these things tend still upward, progress is
The law of life, man is not Man as yet. . . .
But when full roused, each giant-limb awake,
Each sinew strung, the great heart pulsing fast.
He shall start up and stand on his own earth,
Then shall his long triumphant march begin.
Thence shall his being date—thus wholly roused,
What he achieves shall be set down to him
- ↑ An address delivered to the Society of Sigma Xi, State University of Iowa.