Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 23.djvu/62

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impossible to conceive of any method by which our knowledge concerning them could be materially enlarged. Recently, however, a change has come over the scene, and now, in consequence of a very simple scientific observation, a large number of chemists have turned their attention to this field, and it looks as though the time is not far distant when the chemist will be able to produce artificially in the laboratory the alkaloids for which we have hitherto been entirely dependent upon nature. How did this come about? By carrying on investigations on insignificant substances, simply for scientific purposes, to learn more regarding these substances for the sake of increasing our knowledge.

In the year 1851 Anderson, a Scotch chemist, undertook the examination of the oil which is formed when bones are heated. We all know the extremely disagreeable properties of this oil. Its odor would be enough to prevent any but a bold man from undertaking its examination. It is a very complex substance also, and, at first, it seems almost impossible to get from it pure and definite substances. Anderson, recognizing the difficulties before him, went at the problem in a large way. He distilled about two hundred and fifty gallons, or more than a ton, of the disgusting bone-oil, and repeated this operation over and over again. He was finally rewarded by the discovery of some curious substances which he called pyridine, picoline, and lutidine. These substances have from time to time been met with since, but they have played a very subordinate part in chemistry until very recently. About two years ago a young chemist (and, as chance would have it, again a Scotchman) tried an experiment which gave him the startling result that from quinine there can easily be obtained a substance closely related to the pyridine of Anderson; and, indeed, by a further step pyridine itself was obtained. This gave the first hint as to the chemical nature of quinine, and chemists at once recognized the importance of the discovery. Immediately great activity showed itself in the further examination of bone-oil or animal-tar, and our knowledge of this substance was rapidly increased. At the same time it has been shown that not only quinine, but many other alkaloids, are related to pyridine and the other substances discovered by Anderson thirty years ago. Every month we receive reports of rapid advances, and it looks, indeed, as though we should not have long to wait before we hear it announced that quinine and morphine, and perhaps a host of other valuable alkaloids, have been made from the offensive oil which is given off when bones are heated. In view of many past achievements I do not think that this is too much to expect. Look at the unpromising coal-tar, at one time the bugbear of gas-manufacturers! It has become the source of many of the most valuable and interesting chemical substances. Nothing could less suggest the beautiful dye-stuffs, the delicious essences, which can be and are obtained from it in quantity. Surely, with the knowledge already in our possession we have a right