Popular Science Monthly/Volume 86/May 1915/The Progress of Science

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search



Eight years ago Robert Kennedy Duncan, then of the University of Kansas, proposed, and later carried into effect, a plan for industrial fellowships in chemistry which embodies a new method of education and research. According to this plan, an industrial firm established temporary research fellowships at a university, and the students appointed to them by the university carry on work, which may be of value to the firm, under the auspices of the professors. Patents or improvements which result belong to the firm, but the scientific work may later be published for the benefit of science, and the students may have some share in profits that result and an opportunity of regular employment by the company. This plan was continued by Dr. Duncan at the University of Pittsburgh, and resulted in the Mellon Institute of Industrial Research recently dedicated. Dr. Duncan died while the building was in course of construction, but had the satisfaction of seeing this method of cooperation between the university and research, on the one side, and industrial establishments and practical utility, on the other, placed on a permanent basis. It has been extended beyond the institution and the science for which it was inaugurated. Thus there is just announced an extensive plan inaugurating business fellowships at New York University with the cooperation of a number of leading commercial houses.

PSM V86 D520 Mellon Institute of Industrial Research U of Pittsburgh.jpg
The New Building of the Mellon Institute of Industrial Research and School of Specific Industries of the University of Pittsburgh.
PSM V86 D521 Director of the mellon institute raymond f bacon.jpg
The Office of the Director of the Mellon Institute, Dr. Raymond F. Bacon.
PSM V86 D521 Library of the mellon institute.jpg
The Library of the Mellon Institute.
PSM V86 D522 One of the research laboratories of the mellon institute.jpg

A View in one of the Thirty-eight Research Laboratories which have been finished and assigned in the New Building of the Mellon Institute.

The Mellon Institute has its own endowment and board of trustees, but is educationally an integral part of the University of Pittsburgh. It is the gift of A. W. Mellon and E. B. Mellon and has been erected at a cost of $350,000. The donors have also provided $40,000 a year for five years for maintenance. At the dedicatory exercises Dr. W. J. Holland, director of the Carnegie Museum and formerly chancellor of the university, said:

In a certain sense, Mr. Chancellor, this building is a memorial to Robert Kennedy Duncan. On one side of the entrance is a bronze slab inscribed with the name of Thomas Mellon; on the other side of the entrance is a bronze slab inscribed with the name of Robert Kennedy Duncan. But, Mr. Chancellor, this splendid edifice erected upon the campus of our university is more than a cenotaph. It not merely commemorates the names and careers of those of whom I have spoken, but it is intended to serve as the seat of advanced inquiries along scientific lines, which will tend to the promotion not merely of intellectual culture, but of industrial success, and that not merely in this great "workshop of the world," where it is located, but throughout the land. In creating this institution our dear friends have been actuated by a high and intelligent { purpose. Large experience in great industrial enterprises has taught them the importance of chemistry and physics in their application to the industrial arts, and they feel that, wonderful as has been the progress made within the last century, there are untold mysteries in nature which have not yet been revealed, but which, if uncovered, are capable of being-used for the welfare of mankind. And so they have created and are to-day placing in the custody of you, gentlemen of the board of trustees, this institution, which is capable of becoming, when wisely and intelligently administered, a mighty implement for the advancement of human welfare.

The new building of the Mellon Institute, as shown in the accompanying illustration, is a five-story and attic building. The basement contains seven rooms: the main storeroom, the boiler room the electric furnace room, a heavy apparatus room, a room equipped I for low-temperature work, the machine; shop and a kitchen. On the first, the; main floor, are located the general office, 'the directors' suite, the office of the editorial department, the library, the office and laboratory of the assistant directors, the assembly hall, a special apparatus room and a dark-room laboratory. The second and third floors each contain ten large research laboratories and nine small ones; the fourth floor, which is not finished, will contain an identical number of laboratories as soon as the growth of the institute warrants its completion. At the present time twenty-three fellowships are in operation and forty research chemists are engaged in a study of the variety of industrial problems under investigation at the institute.


In an address at the spring meeting of the National Academy of Sciences, Dr. E. A. Millikan, of the University of Chicago, reviewed the discoveries of the newer physics. In abstract he said:

Atomism in modern physics begins with Dalton's discovery in 1803 of exact multiple relationships between the combining powers of the elements. Out of this discovery grew the whole of modern chemistry. The second tremendously important step was taken in 1815 when Prout pointed out that the atomic weights of the lighter elements appeared to be exact multiples of that of hydrogen, thus suggesting that hydrogen was itself the primordial element. The periodic table of Mendeleef added support to such a point of view, and Moseley's recent brilliant discovery through the study of X-ray spectra of a new series of multiple relationships, represented by a consecutive series of atomic numbers from 13 up to 79 with every number except three corresponding to a known element, is another most significant bit of evidence. When we add to this three other facts, namely, (1) that each member of a radioactive family, like the uranium family, has been definitely shown to be produced from its immediate ancestor by the loss by that ancestor of one atom of helium (which is almost equal in weight to four atoms of hydrogen), (2) that in an atomic weight table the differences between the weights of adjacent elements are in almost every case exact multiples of the weight of the hydrogen atom, the characteristic helium difference 4 appearing with extraordinary frequency, and (3) the fact that the introduction of the concept of electromagnetic mass, and the consequent discovery of the inconstancy of mass, open several ways of explaining the slight departures in the exactness of the multiple relations between atomic weights pointed out by Prout, it will be evident that modern science may well feel fairly confident that it has indeed found in hydrogen the primordial atom which enters into the structure of all the elements. All this is merely a very modern verification of very ancient points of view.

But modern physics has recently taken a more significant and more fundamental step than this, for it has looked inside the atom with the aid of X-rays and other ionizing agents, and has there come upon electrically charged bodies, whose inertia or mass is wholly accounted for, at least in the case of the negative elements, by their charges This discovery marks the fusing into one another of two streams of physical investigation, namely, the molecular stream and the electrical stream. A necessary condition for the justification of this last step was the bringing forward of indubitable proof that the thing which has heretofore been called electricity is after all, contrary to Maxwell's view, a definite material substance in the sense that it exists in every charge in the form of discrete elements; in other words, that it too like matter is atomic or granular in structure. Such proof was found in the discovery in the oil drop experiments of even more exact multiple relationships between all the possible charges which can be put on a given body than Dalton had ever discovered between combining powers or Front between atomic weights or Moseley between X-ray frequencies. The greatest common divisor of this series of charges is then the ultimate unit or atom of electricity which has been named the "electron." New evidence that it is indeed a universal and invariable natural constant will be brought forward and a new determination of its value will be presented.

It is obvious that as soon as we could assert that these electrons are found in the hydrogen atom it was necessary to suppose that a single hydrogen atom contains at least two such electrons, one positive and one negative, and as a. matter of fact the evidence is now strong that it consists of exactly two. This twentieth century has then discovered for the first time a new subatomic world of electrons, the constituents of atoms.

All this is definite and probably permanent. But atomic conceptions in more or less vague form have also begun to invade the one remaining field of physical investigation, namely, the field of ethereal radiations. The most significant of recently discovered facts in the domain of radiant energy are these:

(1) Ethereal radiations when absorbed by matter, if they are of high enough frequency, will detach one and only one electron from a single atom. (2) The energy transferred to this electron from the ether wave is independent of the intensity of the incident radiation. (3) It is also independent of the kind of matter from which the electron is taken, but (4) it is exactly proportional to the frequency of the ether wave which detaches it.

These facts are stated in an equation set up tentatively by Einstein in 190.5, and arrived at by him from the standpoint of a modified corpuscular theory of radiation. New proofs of the exactness of Einstein's equation will be presented and the evidence for and against Einstein 's conception will be discussed. Whether the conception ultimately stands or falls, it appears probable, at any rate, that an equation has been obtained which is to be of no less importance in future physics than Maxwell's equation of the electro-magnetic field, and which seems destined to undoors to the understanding of the relalock for the physicists of the future the tions existing between matter and radiant energy.


We record with regret the death of Dr. Frederick Winslow Taylor, of Philadelphia, past president of the Society of Mechanical Engineers, known for his inauguration of methods of "scientific management"; of Dr. Edith J. Claypole, research associate in pathology in the University of California; of Dr. A. A. W. Hubrecht, professor of embryology in the University of Utrecht; of Professor Stanislaus von Prowasek, head of the zoological department of the Hamburg Institute for Tropic Diseases; of Sir George Turner, distinguished for his work on the rinderpest and on leprosy, from leprosy, contracted during research work to discover a cure for the disease, and of Lady Huggins, widow of Sir William Huggins, the distinguished astronomer, and known for her scientific work.

Miss Davy, niece of Sir Humphry Davy, has presented to the Royal Institution, London, a bust of the great chemist executed by Samuel Joseph in 1822.

The Royal Astronomical Society has by a vote of 59 to 3 passed a resolution approving of the admission of women as fellows and associates of the society, and requesting the council to take all necessary steps to render their election possible.