Popular Science Monthly/Volume 53/May 1898/Notes


Ebeonite, a new material invented by M. Panchon, a French paper maker, is named from the resemblance of many of its properties to the hardest woods. It is made by treating fine chips of resinous woods with lyes of sulphates or sulphites, as if to obtain wood cellulose. The softened chips are then pounded to a pulp, which is treated during refining with such chemical or coloring substances as will impart desired special qualities. The pulp is then transformed into boards of leaves of paper, is piled up to whatever thickness may be wanted, pressed in a hydraulic press, and dried slowly. The resulting crude ebeonite can be worked into any shape; or the pulp can be molded, before drying, into articles which will be proof against atmospheric changes, heat, and moisture, and can be rendered incombustible.

A curious instance of instinctive fear is related by R. L. Pocock, in Nature, of a baby orang, with which the writer and his wife were playing. When the lady gently extended her muff, made of the skin of the Indian flying squirrel and ornamented with the unstuffed head and tail, toward the animal, it showed signs of terror. "Upon repeating the experiment, the ape promptly rolled over backward as the quickest way of removing himself from the immediate vicinity of the object; then, getting himself together, climbed up the branches of his tree and retired to the back of the cage, keeping all the while a wary and frightened eye upon the muff, as if in fear of an attack from behind. During all this, the orang made no sound.

A Proposal was made some time ago in a Belgian journal for the celebration of the seven hundredth anniversary of the discovery of stone coal, which was made in 1197 by a blacksmith of Liege. He found a kind of black earth, and, wood and charcoal being very dear at the time, the thought occurred to him to try its properties as a combustible. This black earth was coal. The man's name was Hullioz; whence the French word for coal—houille. Authentic documents show that coal mines were fully worked in Belgium in 1228 and 1229. The use of coal was introduced into England in 1340, but did not become common till the beginning of the sixteenth century. It was first mined in France in the fourteenth century; in Austria and Bohemia in the last century; while it was mined in North Germany about the year 1200.

Some seeds of common plants—such as bloodroot, the large-flowered uvularia, and trillium—are furnished with whitish fleshy appendages, forming a slight ridge on one side. These crests are not conspicuous to be noticed by birds, but Mr. Charles Robinson, of Carlinville. Ill., has found them attractive to ants. He has often exposed seeds of bloodroot in situations frequented by ants, and has observed that the insects invariably seize them and carry them away, the crest serving as a convenient handle by which to take hold of them. He has also experimented with seeds of the other plants named with like results. These seeds seem to have no other means of dissemination, being such as simply drop from the capsules and lie where they fall, till the ants carry them away. They thus add one other to the variety of means by which seeds are scattered.

The possibility of electrifying air entirely free from dust particles is still an open question. Late investigations by Lord Kelvin and S. Arrhenius tend to prove that dust is not essential to electrification.

The Proceedings of the Meeting of the American Railway Association held in October, 1897, contains a carefully compiled report of the committee on the metric system, in which is embodied a brief, convenient, and useful history of the English and French standards, enlivened with interesting incidents. We learn from this report that "the tendency in railway operations has been toward the use of a decimal system. Rates are made on the basis of one hundred pounds. Civil engineers have abandoned the Gunter's chain of sixty-six feet for that of one hundred feet, and divide the foot decimally. The ton of two thousand pounds and the hundredweight of one hundred pounds are now generally used, instead of twenty-two hundred and forty and one hundred and twelve pounds. These changes, both American in their origin, have commended themselves because they permit calculations in decimals."

During the year covered by his last report, the director. Dr. Elkin, of Yale Observatory, studied the photographic trails of five Perseid meteors which were secured in August, 1896. So far the results are not very conclusive as to the character of the radiant, but each year is expected to add to the data, and it is hoped that most valuable deductions may be ultimately possible. A portion of the work on the parallaxes of the ten first-magnitude stars in the northern hemisphere has been passed through the press; and values have been calculated which the director believes can hardly be modified appreciably by further discussion. Dr. F. L. Chase, assistant astronomer, has taken up the heliometer work on the parallaxes of large proper motion stars.

Eight new asteroids—a smaller number than the average of previous years—were discovered in 1897, bringing the whole number up to four hundred and thirty-three. Instead of names the later discoveries are designated by combinations of letters of the alphabet—as DH, DI, DJ, DK, DL, DM, DN, and DO for those of 1897.

An exhibition of culinary art recently held in Vienna met with a prodigious success. It included everything appertaining to cooking, from a richly served table to the emperor's bivouac kitchen. Under a system of reducing the prices of tickets each day, the attendance on the second day was double that on the first, and on the third the ticket office had to be closed against the crowds. It is observed that such throngs came as are never seen at industrial expositions or displays of pictures.

We have to announce the deaths of Dr. Waldemar von Schroeder, professor of pharmacology in the University of Heidelberg and author of a number of treatises on physiological chemistry; William A. Rogers, professor of astronomy in Colby University, and formerly assistant in the observatory of Harvard College, at Waterville, Me., March 1st, aged forty-six years. He was the author of some important contributions to astronomy and physics, and especially to the technique of measurement. Léon Jambert, director of the Popular Institute of Science at the Trocadero, Paris; M. Charles Cornevin, professor of hygiene and zoötechny at the Veterinary School of Lyons, France; ex-Director Winneke, of the Strasburg Observatory; Charles Scofer, a distinguished Orientalist, at Paris, aged seventy-eight years; Sir Henry Bessemer, by whose invention the manufacture of steel was revolutionized, at London, March 13th, aged eighty-five years; Sir Richard Quain, the eminent English physician, March 13th, aged eighty-three years; Admiral Popoff, Russian inventor of a curious form of circular ironclad war ships; Professor Kirk, of the Department of Forests of New Zealand and author of valuable works on the timber and timber trees of that colony; and Dr. Ferdinand Huster, near Liverpool, a chemist of considerable local reputation.