Popular Science Monthly/Volume 43/June 1893/Notes


In his article in the April number of The Popular Science Monthly entitled Science and the Colleges, President D. S. Jordan made the statement that "it is not many years since the faculty of one of our State universities spent a whole afternoon discussing the proposition to abolish laboratory work in science." He now writes us that although the statement was given on what he regarded as good authority, he has been informed by a member of the faculty of the institution in question, who took part in the discussion, that the question was not whether laboratory work should be abolished, but simply whether, in the course leading to the degree of B. A., laboratory work should not be made optional rather than obligatory. In other words, the movement was not in the direction of opposing laboratory work in science, but in the direction of the extension of the elective system. He therefore desires this correction to be made.

The entertainments called the Urania Spectacles that have been given in New York and Boston during the past two winters are very successful efforts to exhibit some of the wonders of science to large audiences. They consist of numerous photo-opticon views, in which coloring and motion as well as form are shown, accompanied by an explanatory lecture. The lecturer is Mr. Garrett P. Serviss, whose ability to make the facts of astronomy interesting is well known to the readers of the Monthly. The spectacles are now three in number: A Trip to the Moon, The Seven Ages of our World, and The Wonders of America. Among the more striking pictures in the first of these are an eclipse of the sun, close views of lunar craters and canons, and the rotating earth as it would be seen from the moon. In the second the progress of a world from a nebula to a burned-out cinder is traced; and in the last the marvelous scenery of our own land is depicted.

A specimen of volcanic dust from near Omaha, Nebraska, is described by Prof. J. E. Todd. It was from a stratum of whitish aspect, about eighteen inches in thickness, found in the bluffs facing the Missouri River. It has the same general characteristics as the volcanic dust which has been found in quantity along the Republican River, in southern Nebraska, and in Knox, Cumming, and Seward Counties in the same State; but it differs in being stained with oxide of iron and the sharp angular grains coated with carbonate of lime. This locality is the most eastern exposure of the volcanic dust stratum which is found scattered over the most of Nebraska.

The summer school has now been made an integral part of the university at Cornell, and will be open for 1893 with courses considerably enlarged in scope. Without excluding others qualified to take up the work, these courses are offered for the special benefit of teachers. They are open to women as well as to men, and the same facilities for work are afforded to those students as to the regular students of the university. Every opportunity will also be afforded for original research. Addresses will be delivered similar to those given in 1892 by President Schurmann and ex-President White. The session will continue from July 6th till August 16th.

The sixth session of the Marine Biological Laboratory, Woods Holl, Massachusetts, will begin June 2st and continue till August 30th. The Laboratory for Investigators will be open during the whole time, and in it twenty special tables will be provided for those who are prepared to begin original work. An elementary course in vertebrate embryology will be introduced, with studies mainly of the fish-egg, conducted by Mr. Lillie and Prof. Whitman, to open July 5th and continue six weeks. The Zoölogical Laboratory for Teachers and Students will be open during the same time, with regular courses in zoölogy and microscopical technique, in which students will be permitted, under special conditions, to begin their individual work as early as June 15th. The Botanical Laboratory will be opened July 5th for study of the structure and development of types of the various orders of cryptogamic plants, giving special attention to the marine algae. A department of laboratory supply has been established, to fill orders from a distance, in which a considerable number of species are kept in stock. The laboratory is under the general direction of Prof. C. O. Whitman, with whom are eleven professors in special branches, and other assistants.

The opinion expressed by Mr. Alfred G. Mayer, in his article on the Habits of the Garter Snake, published in the Monthly for February, that snakes, as feeders on frogs and toads, are therefore friends of insects and indirectly enemies of leaves, is criticised by Garden and Forest as a dangerous generalization, "for, although the snakes will eat frogs and toads, as well as anything else in the line of small animals that they can master, they also eat a great many insects, and they could not, under any circumstances, in justice, be called protectors of insects."

The valuable memoirs of T. A. Conrad on the Tertiary fossils of the United States have become very rare, and are practically out of the market. Yet the work is of great importance to students. The idea of reprinting the work has accordingly found favor. A reprint of the volume on the Eocene is contemplated by Mr. Gilbert D. Harris, of the Smithsonian Institution; and the Wagner Free Institute of Science, of Philadelphia, proposes to reprint the volume on the Miocene—the Medial Tertiary—with photogravure reproductions of the original plates and an introductory chapter and a table showing the present state of the nomenclature of the species; the whole forming an octavo volume of about 150 pages, with 49 plates. Subscriptions are asked for 100 copies, at $3.50 each.

Mr. Joseph E. Carne, Curator of the Mining and Geological Museum at Sydney, Australia, has been appointed a geological surveyor.

Researches into the conditions of the life of micro-organisms have shown them to be variously adapted to considerable diversities of temperature, and some of them to be adapted to great ranges. Forster and Bleekrode have found a few species containing immense numbers of individuals, and living in various media, capable of developing at the freezing point. One of them, a sea-water species, produces phosphorescence at that temperature. It is well known that to preserve meat and other articles of food successfully it is necessary to employ a much lower temperature than that of the melting of ice, and experience has further shown that this is best done when the atmosphere is deprived of moisture.

Electric currents were proved many years ago to exist in plants; and Kunkel was led to think, by his experiments, that they were caused by the mechanical process of water-motion, set up on application of the moist electrode. A new investigation of the subject has been made by Herr Haaske, and he concludes that it is unquestionable that changes of matter of various kinds are concerned in the production of the electric currents, especially oxygen-respiration and carbonic-acid assimilation; and that while water movements may possibly share in their production, their share is certainly only a small one.

Mr. Kepamath Basu has observed that under the influence of enlarged education and refinement, tattooing and the use of red paint on the forehead and crown are diminishing among the women of Bengal. These fashions still persist in the Northwest Provinces, along with the insertion of thick and heavy wooden plugs in the lower lobes of their ears.

A specimen of ruthenium, weighing two kilogrammes, prepared by M. Joly, was recently exhibited in the French Academy of Sciences. The metal is very hard and brittle, having a specific gravity of 12, and melts at the temperature of the electric arc. It is usually found associated with iridium, palladium, rhodium, and osmium, in platinum ores.

Herr Du Bois-Reymond has shown, in a communication to the Physiological Society of Berlin, that a sensation of heat follows the immersion of the hand in a receiver containing gaseous carbonic acid. A like effect is produced by other gases which do not enter into the composition of the air. The heat sensation may be compared with that produced by a temperature of 68° Fahr. in the air. The phenomenon results from a stimulation of the nerves sensitive to heat.

Experiments are described by Herr Wesendonck, the object of which was to determine whether electrification is produced by the friction of gases. While ordinary air gave considerable charges, negative or positive, according to the adjustment of the apparatus, no electrification was produced when the air had been previously freed from dust and moisture. Oxygen behaved in the same way. Carbonic acid, evaporated from the liquid state, imparted a strong positive charge, which was, however, reversed as soon as the cold led to the precipitation of watery vapor. Ordinary atmospheric dust was found to electrify the brass negatively, and the charge was increased by previous drying. It seems, therefore, that pure gases are incapable of producing electrification by friction, and that the effects observed are conditioned by the presence of solid or liquid particles.

An account of a thunderstorm in which the rain was mixed with live land mussels, which is said to have occurred at Paderbom, Germany, in August, 1892, is published in Das Wetter. A yellowish cloud attracted the attention of several people, both from its color and the rapidity of its motion, when suddenly it burst. A torrential rain fell with a rattling sound, and immediately afterward the pavement was found to be covered with hundreds of the mussels.

Dr. E. Lewis Sturtevant has presented to the Missouri Botanic Garden, St. Louis, his entire botanical library, which is particularly rich in pre-Linnæan works.

The question of evaporation from the surface of snow is discussed in a Russian meteorological journal by M. A. Müller, of the Observatory of Ekaterinberg. Authors who have previously written on this subject, including Nuckner, Woeikoff, and others, have not been agreed as to whether the evaporation exceeds the condensation from the air in contact with the snow. The method usually adopted has been to compare the temperature at the surface of the snow with the dew point, and assume that if it is superior, evaporation, if inferior, condensation, takes place. M. Müller's observations were made from December 21, 1890, to February 28, 1891. His conclusion is that, according to the method adopted, evaporation is superior to condensation in the proportion of 73 to 27.

The report of a parliamentary committee on the plague of voles in Scotland shows, on the authority of early Celtic chroniclers, that as early as the year 896 Ireland was devastated by a plague of "vermin of a mole-like form, each having two teeth," which "fell down from heaven," and were driven out only "by prayer and fasting." There is also a plague of voles in Thessaly (a Grecian land), and the Mohammedans there have sent to Mecca for some holy water.