Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 59.djvu/117

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THE PROGRESS OF SCIENCE.

of years since the remarkable experiments of Dujardin-Beaumetz on the toxic action of the different alcohols. He found that the toxic action of pure ethyl alcohol (common alcohol) was in a certain sense nil, that is to say, hogs which were kept in a condition of intoxication most of the time for nearly three years, on being allowed to sober up, appeared to be in perfect health, and presented after slaughtering no visible lesions of any organ. This was the case when absolutely pure liquor was used, but when ordinary spirits were fed to hogs they quickly succumbed, showing symptoms and lesions, especially of the liver, similar to those only too familiar in the case of human inebriates. The conclusion, drawn by Dujardin-Beaumetz from a long series of experiments, was that the toxic quality of alcoholic liquors is due chiefly to the presence of higher alcohols, especially amyl alcohol, the principal ingredient of fusel oil, though methyl alcohol and aldehyde may play a subordinate part. Under any circumstances no distilled liquor is safe to use till it has been 'aged' for several years in the wood. Brunton's researches, on the other hand, seem to show that the presence of fusel oil, in such quantities as it usually occurs in potable liquors, is not a menace to public health, but that the greatest danger is from the presence of furfural and other similar aldehydes, which are derived from the husk of the grain under the influence of heat and acids. Furfural is present to a greater or less extent in all whiskies, but is especially abundant in those made by modern processes, where it is sought to obtain as much liquor as possible per bushel of grain. According to this, the superiority of the liquors of 'ye olden time' was due not so much to the fact that they were better 'aged,' but because they originally contained less of the furfural, having been made more carefully. Brunton's physiological experiments were exceedingly interesting, especially in comparing the after effects of intoxication from ordinary spirits with those of spirits from which the furfural had been removed. In the latter case as soon as the animal was sober it appeared to be in a perfectly normal condition, and showed none of the after effects, which in the former case lasted for a considerable time. It is also worthy of note that those substances popularly used as 'bracers' after intoxication generally contain ammonia or some allied compound, which, from a chemical standpoint, is capable of combining with the furfural and neutralizing its effects.

Since the comparatively recent condensation of hydrogen to a liquid, much study has been devoted to its physical properties, and especially to the determination of its boiling-point, since this is not far above the absolute zero. The difficulty regarding the former determinations, which gave the boiling point as - 238.4° C., is that being obtained by means of a platinum resistance thermometer, they depended upon extrapolation, which might prove faulty at such low temperatures, as has now indeed been shown to be the case. More recently Dewar has made use of a constant-volume gas thermometer, employing for the gas hydrogen from different sources, and also helium, contaminated with only slight traces of neon. The results obtained show that the boiling-point of hydrogen is - 252.5°, or 20° above the absolute zero. Investigations as to the temperature of solid hydrogen are now being carried out, and show a still closer approach to the absolute zero. For some years the researches of Gautier in Paris have indicated that hydrogen is a normal constituent of the atmosphere, and the question may now be considered as settled. Not only has Dewar condensed hydrogen directly from the atmosphere, but Gautier has made quantitative determinations of the amount in different localities. In the air of Paris hydrogen does not seem to be an invariable constituent, though methane (marsh gas) is always present and traces of carbon monoxid, while the unsaturated hydrocarbons are generally