Open main menu

Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 81.djvu/403

This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.



WHEN I had the honor of being asked to deliver one of the general lectures, I had no choice but to accept and yet it was at once evident to me that I should experience very great difficulty in finding a subject suitable to this occasion and interesting to the brilliant and distinguished audience which I see before me this afternoon.

This difficulty is due to the fact that, while I have always taken an interest in industrial questions and have repeatedly investigated industrial problems from the scientific point of view, my researches have, for the most part, lain in the path of pure science, and any practical application of my researches to the chemical and allied industries, I have had to leave to others.

Among the problems of technical interest which I have worked at during many years are the manufacture of artificial camphor, of "synthetic" rubber and more particularly the permanent fireproofing of cotton goods and other inflammable materials. In considering these subjects, I concluded that the problem of the manufacture of artificial camphor was too technical to be generally interesting and my friend—Professor Duisberg—wishes to introduce the subject of "synthetic" rubber into his general lecture so there remained the subject of permanent fireproofing which in many respects is perhaps as interesting and important and as difficult of accomplishment as the other problems I have mentioned. The problem of the prevention of fire has always been one of the most pressing and at the same time one of the most difficult and perplexing with which mankind has had to deal. In very early times wooden houses caught fire and were burnt down and it is said that the Romans attempted to render wood fireproof by dipping it in a bath made of vinegar and powdered clay.

This treatment, so strongly reminiscent of processes employed many years afterwards, would no doubt be effective in rendering the wood less liable to inflame, but it can hardly have had wide application because vinegar, in those days, was not easily obtained in quantity and was consequently an expensive substance. I have made a search in a number of old books with the object of discovering some other of the actual methods used in early times in connection with fireproofing and the first pamphlet on the subject which I have been able to find dates from

  1. A general lecture before the Eighth International Congress of Applied Chemistry on September 10, 1912.