Popular Science Monthly/Volume 19/September 1881/Notes


Professor O. N. Rood, of Columbia College, describes, in a late number of the "American Journal of Science," a modification of the Sprengel pump, by which he has been able to obtain a vacuum of 1390000000 "without finding that the limit of its action had been reached."

Alden B. Hurt, not Huet, as it was wrongly printed, is the name of the author of the article "Union of the Telegraph and Postal Service" published in the July "Monthly."

The center of population of the United States appears now to have reached a point in latitude 39° 03', about five miles west of Covington, Kentucky, ten miles east of the boundary-line between Indiana and Ohio, and fifty-one miles west and a few miles south of the point it reached in 1870. It has moved westward about four hundred and fifty miles since 1790.

Mr. John Fergus McLennan, an industrious student in anthropology, died in June of lung disease, from which he had suffered for many years, aggravated by a fever caught in Algeria. His investigations were directed chiefly to the history of institutions. Their results were given principally in his essays on "Plant and Animal Worship," in the "Fortnightly Review," which first drew attention to the distribution and historical importance of totemism, and in his essays on "Primitive Marriage."

A French scientific journal relates an incident illustrating the susceptibility of spiders to music. A party at a country-house had formed a quartet and were performing a number of pieces, when two spiders were observed to descend upon their threads and hang near the top of the window of the room. They continued there for an hour, and did not go back to their nests till the music had stepped.

Dr. Beddoe and Mr. Tuckett have stated that "British heads are smaller than British heads used to be," and Mr. Horsfall, in the "Manchester Guardian," infers from this and other facts that the English people are physically deteriorating. The conditions under which youth are brought up in these days, without access to play-grounds and public gymnasia, with smoking and drinking as their principal recreations, are such as to favor the stunting of the race. The "Lancet" takes up the thought, and points to the mode of life of a large number of urban people as the great evil of civilization. It urges the multiplication of places for open-air recreation and gymnasia, with increased freedom of admission to them.

The ninth award of the Rumford medal has been made by the American Academy of Arts and Sciences to Professor J. Willard Gibbs, for his researches on thermo-dynamics, and the medal was formally conferred upon that gentleman in January last. Professor Gibbs, in entering upon his investigation on the "Equilibrium of Heterogeneous Substances," the work for which the medal was conferred, took his departure from the two propositions enunciated by Clausius, that "the energy of the world is constant," and "the entropy of the world" (that is, the energy not available for work) "tends constantly toward a maximum," and held as his leading object to develop the parts of energy and entropy in the theory of thermo-dynamic equilibrium. His researches were declared by the President of the Academy to be "the consummate flower and fruit of seeds planted by Rumford himself, though in an unpromising soil, almost a century ago," when he showed how water could be boiled by the heat developed in boring a cannon.

Sir Josiah Mason, founder of the Mason Science College, died at Birmingham, England, in June, at the age of eighty-six years. He rose from the humblest ranks, having begun life as a street hawker and Jack-at-all-trades. He became employed in the gilt toy trade in 1814, and engaged in the manufacture of split rings in 1822. He afterward added the manufacture of steel pens, and became the greatest producer of them. He established an orphanage at Edlington in 1860, expending £300,000 upon it, and received the honor of knighthood in acknowledgment of his work. He afterward built up and endowed the Mason Science College, the inaugural address of which was delivered by Professor Huxley, giving it a total sum of about a quarter of a million pounds sterling.

M. de Bisschop has won a prize of one thousand francs, or two hundred dollars, for a small motor suited to use in families. His engine is worked by gas, and the operation costs, at the prices current in Paris, two cents an hour for machines doing a work of 36·17 foot-pounds per second, five cents an hour for machines performing at the rate of 180·8 foot-pounds per second. The smaller machines are sold for one hundred dollars; the larger ones for one hundred and eighty dollars.

The French Minister of Public Instruction is organizing at the Trocadéro a museum of ethnography, to contain the collections of the exploring parties by which France is represented, in nearly every quarter of the world, which will be under the charge of M. Armand Landrin and M. Hamy. The American department is nearly ready to be opened. It is arranged in geographical order, beginning with Alaska, Labrador, and Canada, and ending with Brazil. The departments of the states farther south must for the present remain empty for the want of specimens. California is represented by a tomb made of sand, shells, and kitchen-midden stuff, containing the bones of the deceased, by collections of cut flints, dolls, toys, and idols; Mexico by mummies—some of which are very well preserved, while others are but skin and bones—mirrors of polished pyrites, and all kinds of divinities.

Herr Holtz has concluded, from the comparison of the statistics of thunderstorms and the damage occasioned by them in Germany, Austria, and Switzerland, from 1854 to 1870, that, while the increase in thunderstorms has been small, the risk from lightning has been very largely augmented. He believes the change to be partly due to the destruction of forests, the extension of railways, and the use of iron in house-building.

Professor George Rolleston, Linacre Professor of Anatomy and Physiology in the University of Oxford, died in June, at his home in Oxford, in his fifty-second year. His life was one of scientific activity. He began his career, after being admitted to practice as a physician, as assistant surgeon in the British Civil Hospital at Smyrna during the Crimean War, He became Lee's Reader in Anatomy at Christ Church College, Oxford, in 1857, and was appointed to his professorship, as the first to occupy the newly founded chair, in 1860. He is' best known by his work on "The Forms of Animal Life," an outline of zoölogical classification based upon anatomical investigations, by his important contributions to Canon Greenwell's "British Barrows," and by numerous contributions to the "Transactions" of the Royal Linnæan and Archæological Societies, and to many scientific journals.

Professor Ira Remsen has recently reported to the National Board of Health, the result of investigations he has made to ascertain whether carbonic oxide escapes from cast-iron stoves and furnaces in sufficient quantities to be dangerous. French chemists have asserted that it does; experiments made in Germany have failed to sustain their conclusion. Professor Remsen used Vogel's test for carbonic oxide, as improved by Hempel, and was able to detect as small a quantity as 0·04 parts of the oxide to 1,000 of air, while Vogel by his original test could not detect a smaller proportion than 2·5 parts per 1,000. In a careful examination of several furnaces in Baltimore, including some bad ones, carbonic oxide was not detected in a single case. A stove of peculiar construction was experimented upon under various conditions, to ascertain whether carbonic oxide actually passes through cast-iron heated to redness, with the result that none of the gas was found escaping. The conclusion is therefore drawn that if carbonic oxide is present in rooms it is in a smaller proportion than 0·04 parts per 1,000; and it remains to be shown whether so small a quantity is dangerous to health.

Among the recent entomological contributions to the "American Naturalist" is one by George Marx, of Washington, D. C, on a tube-constructing spider which he has discovered in the grounds of grass lands. The nests of these insects are outwardly about three quarters of an inch high, composed of grass, sticks of wood, etc., and much resembling a bird's nest. Within they are cylindrical, and communicate with a shaft some eight or nine inches deep, at the bottom of which was found (in October) a torpid spider. The nest and tube were strengthened by a lining resembling a very fine tissue-paper, which showed under the microscope no web-structure, but a hardened tissue, like varnish. Several of the nests were found, all constructed on the same plan. Nests of a similar character, but not identical, are described by Mr. Nicholas Pike, Mr. S. H. Scudder, and Mrs. M. Treat, as having been found in the sand near the seashore. Mr. Marx believes his specimens to be of a different species from the others, chiefly because the nests of the latter appeared to be used in summer and to contain eggs, while his nests were fresh in the fall, dilapidated and empty in the summer, indicating that they were used only as winter residences.

Professor J. W. Mallet has published an account of his determinations of the atomic weight of aluminum by series of experiments in three methods. The first method was by the ignition of ammonia alum, the second by the precipitation of the bromine in aluminum bromide by silver, and the third by the evolution of hydrogen through the action of metallic aluminum upon sodium hydrate. In the last method the hydrogen was determined, first, by the direct measurement of its volume, and, second, by weighing the water produced by its oxidation. The mean result of thirty experiments, ten in the first method, eleven in the second, and nine in the third, rejecting one of the results as too wide of the mark, was 27·02.