Popular Science Monthly/Volume 53/May 1898/Minor Paragraphs


M. Moissan, who has had much success in preparing carbides of the metals by heating charcoal and the metals directly at the temperature of the electric furnace, now describes a new and general method of preparing these substances by placing together in the furnace a metallic oxide and carbide of calcium in fusion. The metallic oxide is reduced; the metal unites with the carbon, producing a crystalline carbide, and the oxygen combines with the calcium to form lime. By this method M. Moissan has obtained crystallized carbides of aluminum, manganese, tungsten, molybdenum, titanium, and chromium. In case the metal does not give a combination with carbon, it is obtained in free state as a melted button. There have been reduced in this way by carbide of calcium, to form free metals, the oxides of lead, bismuth, and tin. Silica is likewise easily reduced by carbon and gives carbide of silicon, or carborundum, a substance much used in industry.

President Gilman observes, in his semicentennial historical discourse at the Sheffield Scientific School, that the institution has been a department of a university "which never suffered its love of letters to blind its eyes to the value of science. In the days of closely restricted income, during the first half of the century, chemistry, mineralogy, geology, botany, mathematics, physics, meteorology, and astronomy were taught in Yale. Nor will any one think that scientific research was undervalued if he recalls the preparation of Dana's Mineralogy, the light that was thrown on meteoric showers, the studies of the aurora and of the zodiacal light, and the search for an intramercurial planet. Very different would have been the Sheffield record if it were not associated with the fame, the fortune, and the followers of a greater alma mater. … No conflict of studies has been heard of; no hostility between science and letters; no 'warfare' between science and religion. The Sheffield School has always stood for the idea of a liberal education in which scientific studies should predominate, but in which a moderate amount of Latin and of modern languages is required; history and economics are also taught. It is memorable that for a long period the greatest of American philologists was the daily instructor in French and German, that the most learned study ever made of 'Dan Chaucer and his well of English undefyled' proceeded from a Sheffield chair, and that no American professorship of economics or statistics has been more prolific or stimulating than that which was held for many years by one but lately brought to the end of his career."

The custom of trepanning, or taking small pieces of bone from the living head, was much practiced in prehistoric times, as the skulls prove to us, and is still in vogue among some peoples. Among these are the people of the Berber stock in the Djebel Aurès and the Djebel Chechar of the edges of the Algerian plateau. The method of performing the operation is carefully described by Drs. H. Malbot and R. Verneau, of whom Dr. Malbot was shown by a native doctor a skull with more than a dozen circular holes, two slits, and a large irregular orifice, all of which had been pierced when the man was alive. The skull was kept hidden, and was evidently used as an example by the local doctors. The natives have recourse to trepanning for blows or wounds on the head; and it does not matter how long before the blow may have been given, if only the sick person can remember that he has had one. The operation is not severe. A woman, tired of her husband, is said to have called in the service of a trepanner in order to get a divorce from him by producing a piece of her skull and affirming that he had broken it in some of his cruel acts.

The chief fire warden of Minnesota, C. C. Andrews, says in his report for 1896 that the main work under the fire-warden law of the State is to make people more careful about causing fires and more thoughtful of the benefit to the public and to individuals of forest resources. There are several million acres in the State, in detached areas, fit only for growing timber. It is computed that trees take from the soil only one twelfth part of the mineral substances required for field crops; and it is therefore profitable for the non-agricultural lands to be retained in timber or planted with it. Properly taken care of and protected the forests might afford a sustained, permanent, and growing industry for many thousand more laborers than are now employed. A bill passed one house of the Minnesota Legislature in 1896 providing a way by which the State could receive and administer, on forestry principles, donations from individuals of cut-over and waste lands unsuited for agriculture. The measure has been discussed and approved by the Forestry Association and the State Horticultural Society; and as it seems to be all meritorious, it is to be hoped that it may become a law.