Popular Science Monthly/Volume 20/January 1882/Notes


The President of the Entomological Section of the American Association stated, in his address at the meeting of the section, that while there were not known to be more than ten or twelve working entomologists in the country forty years ago, four hundred and thirty-six names were reported in last year's "Naturalists' Directory" of persons designated as entomologists. No other distinct branch of natural history except geology and botany has so many representatives in that book. The various journals of the last year contained three hundred and thirty-six contributions to entomology exclusively by Americans, the work of eighty writers.

The appointment of M. Wurtz, President of the Academy of Science, to be life-Senator, raises the number of members of the Academy belonging to the Upper House of the French Legislature to three, the two other members being M. Robin and M. Dupuy de Lome. The election of M. Berthelot, which is considered certain, will give the Academy a fourth representative in this body.

Mr. F. W. Putnam has exhibited to the Boston Society of Natural History specimens of a collection of several hundred rude stone implements which Mr. David Dodge has obtained from plowed gravelly fields at Wakefield, Massachusetts. The implements had not yet been found in place in the gravel, so that it was not possible to decide that they were true palæolithic implements; for rude forms of the same character are often associated in this country with finely polished implements of the Neolithic period. Some of the specimens were obtained from a very old pile of stone-chips nearly buried in the side of a hill, where similar implements to those found in the fields near by had evidently been made. It was worthy of remark that none of the arrow-heads and similar forms, common near places where palæolithic objects have been discovered, had been found in connection with these implements.

In a pamphlet on "The Discipline of the School," published by the Bureau of Education, Dr. Hiram Orcutt gives as the elements of school discipline, each of which he discusses under its special head: thorough organization and classification; the establishment of the authority of the teacher; work; a sound public opinion in the school; mental and physical recreation (gymnastics and exercise); kindness; power to punish, with wise discrimination, and courage to inflict punishment when it is required; regular systematic study and recitation; and good manners, which are inseparable from good morals.

Professor Cyrus Thomas has made a study of the Mexican manuscript called the "Manuscript Troano," which was discovered by the Abbe Brasseur de Bourbourg in 1865, and has concluded that it is a genuine Maya document; that it is a religious calendar of some kind, in which the day-characters are used for the purpose of designating the days and not for the signification of the words; and that it confirms the substantial correctness of Landa's characters for the day. He has begun the attempt to decipher the hieroglyphics of the text.

The yucca seldom perfects its seed in the United States. The failure is believed by Professor Riley to be in consequence of the flower depending for its pollination upon the office of an insect which has not yet been introduced to an extent corresponding with the diffusion of the plant. In his paper on "The Pollination of Yucca," before the American Association, Professor Riley describes some insects which he has found in or about the plant, by the agency of one or more of which he thinks the pollination may be accomplished in the rare cases where it is observed to occur.

The experiments instituted by M. Pictet to determine the density of liquid oxygen, hydrogen, and nitrogen, have been followed up by Messrs. Gailletet and Hautefeuille, who have facilitated the processes by previously mixing the gases with carbonic acid and protoxide of nitrogen, whereby the liquefaction is made to take place more readily. The density of the liquids of the latter gases being known, it is easy to compute that of the substances under examination. The results of tests made at a very low temperature are favorable to the theory of the relations that have been suggested between hydrogen and magnesium, oxygen and sulphur, nitrogen and phosphorus; but, as the freezing-point of water is approached, discrepancies are manifested which grow more and more accentuated.

Dr. Luton, of Rheims, reports that he has discovered that the tincture of ergot of rye associated with phosphate of soda produces on those to whom it is administered an hilarious excitement, similar to that which is brought on by laughing-gas.

M. Lenz, in a communication made recently to the French Geographical Society, on his journey to Timbuctoo, says that in the Inguidi, a region of sand-dunes, he observed the equally rare and interesting phenomenon of resounding or musical sand. "All at once," he said, "there was heard in the desert, issuing from a dune of sand, a prolonged, muffled sound, quite like the sound of a trumpet. It continued for some seconds, then ceased, to be resumed in another direction. The phenomenon made the traveler anxious. I suppose it was occasioned by the friction upon each other of the burning grains of quartz, which are simply placed one by the other, and are continually in motion."

M. C. Wideman has shown that the electrical qualities which are already plainly perceptible in most kinds of paper can be greatly increased by subjecting it to a previous treatment. Common unsized paper, Swedish filtering paper, or silk paper, when dipped in a mixture of equal volumes of nitric and sulphuric acids, washed and dried, becomes imperfectly transformed into pyroxile, and extremely electric. When put on a wooden table or an oil-cloth, and rubbed with the hand, it will immediately attract light bodies; if taken up from the oilcloth in the dark, the whole surface shines like phosphorus; when the finger is brought toward it, it gives off a spark. A Leyden-jar may be charged with it. It gives off, when rubbed, the characteristic odor of ozone. It preserves its properties for a long time, and may have them restored by heating it. Thus, for a few cents, we may possess a machine competent to aid in the illustration of all electrical phenomena.

Professor Lebour, of Newcastle, in a paper on the geological distribution of endemic goitre in England, has shown that the conditions of the prevalence of this disease are substantially the same as they have been shown by the researches of Dr. de St. Lager, of Lyons, to be in France. In both countries the formations in which the most goitre is supported are both calcareous and metalliferous. Metalliferous impurities alone do not promote the disease, for the Devonian and granitic formations are free from it. The absence of limestone alone does not prevent it, for it exists on the lignitiferous beds of France, and the ferruginous sands of the weald. Dr. de St. Lager believes that endemic goitre coincides with metalliferous deposits, of which iron pyrites is most active.

Professor Cope, describing the Canidæ of the Loup Fork, or highest Miocene formation of the West, represents that the number of species is not so great as in the preceding periods of the Miocene, while those that are known more nearly approach the existing dogs in character, and are of a larger average size.

Dr. J. Young and Professor G. Forbes have made some new researches to measure the velocity of light, by the method that was employed by M. Fizeau and M. Cornu. The electric light was used, with two reflectors a quarter of a mile apart, and a revolving toothed wheel was employed to alter the intensity of the reflected light. Through this two stars of light were seen, one increasing, the other diminishing in intensity as the speed of the wheel was increased. The speed required to produce equality of the light was determined by means of a chronograph. The final result of the mean of the several observations for the velocity of the light from an electric lamp in vacuo was 187·273 miles a second. The observations on the color of the stars indicated that the blue rays travel faster than red rays, with a difference equivalent to about 1·8 per cent, of the whole velocity.

Professor Raoul Pictet, of Geneva, announces the discovery of a method of construction for greatly increasing the speed of vessels by making such an arrangement of the keel as will diminish the resistance of the water to the lowest point. Where it is applied, the prow, instead of sinking deeper as the speed increases, will be raised, and only the sides of the hull and the neighborhood of the wheel will be exposed to the friction, so that the vessel will glide over the water instead of having to push its way through it. Professor Pictet expects to attain a speed of from thirty to thirty-six miles an hour. A vessel embodying his plans is building for Lake Leman.

Dr. Hanichi Muraoka, a Japanese student at Strasburg, has recently determined experimentally the specific resistance and the change of resistance to the galvanic current at all temperatures shown by all the kinds of hard carbon, including some artificial carbons and graphites. The highest specific resistance, at the freezing-point, was given by the graphitic compound used in Faber's lead-pencils, 952·0, and the lowest by Siberian graphite, 12·2, while the resistance of the artificial carbons prepared for electric lighting ranged from 36·86 to 55·15. The resistance in all the carbons decreased with a rise in temperature, the coefficient of decrease being greatest for Siberian graphite, the least for a carbon pencil prepared from coke. The thermo-electric force of all the samples was found to be plus to that of graphite.

M. de Lesseps states that the latest examinations of the chotts of Algeria and Tunis have shown that no serious difficulty need be apprehended in digging the projected canal which is intended to transform the marshy and unhealthy lowlands of the southern parts of those states into an interior sea. The ridge (seuil) of Gerbes is almost wholly formed of sands and siliceous or argillaceous marls, instead of being a mass of hard rocks, as some geologists have asserted.

M. Janssen is of the opinion that while it is easy enough to obtain a photographic image of the brighter parts of nebulæ, it must be extremely difficult to secure such complete images as will permit of their being used as an accurate standard with which to compare future observations. A nebula has no regular outline like the stars, but presents the appearance of flecks of cloud or haze, with indefinite borders and most diverse degrees of luminosity. The character of its photographic image will be modified by several circumstances, atmospheric conditions, instrumental power, sensibility of the plate, length of exposure, which can never be exactly repeated. Hence, two images of it will almost of necessity be different, though it may not have changed.

Mr. Mackendrick has made a study of the coloring-matter of the Medusæ and lias succeeded in extracting some of it. The matter was shown under a microscope having a power of twelve hundred, in the form of little irregular particles of a diameter of one thirty-thousandth of an inch included in the colorless protoplasm of the small cells. When extracted it proved to be soluble in acids, but insoluble in alkalies. The coloring particles appear as granulations in the neutral tissues of the living medusa, but arc dissolved and scattered after death as the tissues become acid.

The technical school which was opened last fall, under the direction of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, had a very successful career during the winter, and was attended by one hundred and forty-three pupils. This fall, the art classes having been removed to new quarters, the building at First Avenue and Sixty-eighth Street will be occupied wholly by the trade-schools, which were to be opened on the 21st of November. It is the purpose of these schools to make thorough, efficient, and practical mechanics, who can earn a living by their trade. They will have departments of plumbing and sanitary engineering; house, sign, and decorative painting, with special courses in mixing colors, fresco-painting, and polishing in hard wood; and the science and practice of brick-laying. Practical instruction will be given by mechanics skilled in the different branches of their trades. The charges will cover the actual cost of instruction and of the materials used.

In a paper on "The White Pine and the Lumber Industry of Michigan," Mr. W. H. Ballou shows that the quantity of pine timber in that State has decreased from 135,000,000,000 feet on 20,000,000 acres of land to 35,000,000,000 feet on 10,571,000 acres. Some 5,000,000,000 feet are now annually taken away, so that in seven years the supply will be exhausted. It almost seems a despairing task to hope ever to raise forests for another such enormous production, and science will have to devise other materials as a substitute for wood. Lumber is already made in boards an inch thick from wheat-straw, and can be colored so as accurately to resemble any real lumber. The inventor manufactures two thousand square feet of a more durable and cheaper material than lumber from a ton of straw.

Many birds, according to Mr. E. E. Fish, appear to possess powers of ventriloquism. A cuckoo, not a rod off, can make his voice appear to come from a furlong away; the thrush, singing from a low perch, seems to be in the tree-tops; the vesper-sparrow and field-sparrow on the road-side fence, as if singing from a distant field. The robin has a similar power of throwing its voice, and the cat-bird can sing in a loud, voluble sound or in a low, soft, sweet, and tender warble. The oven-bird, the smallest of the thrushes, singing from a distance, can throw its sharp, ringing notes in such a way as to cause the listener to believe that it is almost within reach.

Mr. W. H. M. Christie, F. R. S., first assistant at Greenwich Observatory, has been appointed Astronomer Royal to succeed Sir George Airy.