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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 54.djvu/149

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139
FRAGMENTS' OF SCIENCE.

thusiastic explorer, M. Louis Armand, of Paris. It can only be entered by a "well" two hundred and forty feet deep, and below this lies another of still greater depth. The party was provided with rope ladders for use in such places; and the intrepid investigator who essayed the descent went down, by actual measurement, six hundred feet from the surface. He described the stalactites as magnificent. Both from a geological and an archæological point of view this account was of unusual interest. Dr. Hovey had many beautiful views of the cañons and the cave openings in their walls; while his observations, and those of the Société de Spéléologie, are very curious as to the persistence, in this strangely overlooked region, of conditions closely akin to what are usually called "prehistoric" times.

 

Molecular Asymmetry and Life.—Speaking in his presidential address to the Chemical Section of the British Association on Stereochemistry and Vitalism, Prof. A. R. Japp expressed the conclusion that "the production of single asymmetric compounds or their isolation from the mixture of their enantiomorphs [or opposite forms] is, as Pasteur firmly held, the prerogative of life. Only the living organism, with its asymmetric tissues, or the asymmetric productions of the living organism, or the living intelligence with its conception of asymmetry, can produce this result. Only asymmetry can beget asymmetry. The absolute origin of the compounds of one-sided asymmetry is a mystery as profound as the absolute origin of life itself. The two phenomena are intimately connected. . . . No fortuitous concourse of atoms, even with all eternity for them to clash and combine in, could compass this feat of the formation of the first optically active organic compound. Coincidence is excluded, and every purely mechanical explanation of the phenomena must necessarily fail. I see no escape from the conclusion that at the moment when life first arose a directive force came into play—a force of precisely the same character as that which enables the intelligent operator, by the exercise of his will, to select one crystallized enantiomorph and reject its asymmetric opposite. I would emphasize the fact that the operation of a directive force of this nature does not involve a violation of the law of the conservation of energy."

 

Dr. Russell's Photographic Researches.—At the recent meeting of the British Association at Bristol, Dr. W. T. Russell gave, before the Chemical Section, some further information regarding his recent researches on the surprising action exerted by certain substances in the absence of light on photographic plates. The Journal of the Society of Arts gives some of his more striking results: "Some ordinary type, a portion of the cover of Punch, and the wrapper of a packet of tobacco produced strongly defined pictures; the last mentioned was particularly interesting, inasmuch as the red ink had proved active, the blue inactive. Strangely, writing ink (old-fashioned) is quite inactive, and paper having writing on it in ink, even over a hundred years old, when placed between a sheet of active material and a sensitive plate, yielded a picture in which the writing appeared quite distinctly, white on black, in spite of the original being in some cases indistinct; ferrous sulphate behaves like ink. The list of materials that are active is very long, and includes wood, which gives a picture of the grain and knots. Many metals are active, but zinc is very active only when bright, so that a dirty sheet of zinc rubbed with sandpaper gives a picture of the scratches. Many alloys are also active, pewter and fusible metal being two of them, and curiously some brasses are, while others are not. The effective agency that passes from the material to the sensitive plate shows peculiarities. It passes through gelatin, gutta-percha, celluloid, collodion, wet gum arabic, and some paper, while other paper, glass, minerals transparent to light, and many other substances are opaque to these emanations, and some striking effects were exhibited demonstrating the interference of these opaque substances when interposed between an active substance and the sensitive plate. For instance, a five-pound note placed printing downward on the sensitive plate gave a picture of the printing inscription, but when placed under a zinc plate with the printing toward the zinc plate it gave a picture of the opaque paper with the water marks distinctly showing, and, what is still more astonishing, the zinc plate, after