Popular Science Monthly/Volume 55/June 1899/Minor Paragraphs


It appears from tables of Some Statistics of Engineering Education, compiled by President M. E. Wadsworth, of the Michigan College of Mines, that such education has been, in the United States, on the whole a thing of comparatively recent date, the oldest school, the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, having been established in 1824; the next, the Lawrence and Sheffield Schools, in 1846 and 1847; and the Columbia School in 1863. Civil engineering has led in this country, and has had various periods of advance, as in 1887'88, and depression, as in 1896-97. Mechanical engineering progressed till 1886-'87, when the number of students fell off, and the same happened with electrical engineering, "which further suffers a natural reaction from having been greatly overdone." As a rule, most of the schools in the United States seem to run to specialties, one or two of the courses being usually more conspicuous than the others.

The importance of some arrangement by which vessels may be informed of each other's approach in fog and darkness has given rise to many devices; the only one, however, which has as yet proved practical is the fog-horn or siren, and this has many disadvantages. Several fatal collisions at sea during the past year have given rise to renewed interest in the subject, and a number of new methods have been suggested. M, Branley, a French physicist, in a note presented to the French Academy suggests that each vessel be provided with a number of extremely sensitive magnetic receivers, or coherers, and a powerful magnetic transmitter. Periodical signals being made with the transmitter, corresponding impressions would be made upon the receivers of approaching vessels. The principal difficulty with this scheme lies in the fact that the receivers of a vessel will be affected by its own transmitter. There are several methods by which this difficulty may be overcome, however. Different signals may be employed, or the interval between signals may be regularly varied. M. Branley calls attention to the influence of a metallic envelope surrounding a coherer, and shows that when the coherer is thus completely surrounded it is unaffected by the influence of a transmitter. By thus inclosing the receiver on a ship at the instant of the operation of the transmitter of the same vessel, the above difficulty might be avoided.

While we can not collect roses from our gardens in January and maple blossoms from the woods in February, yet, as Prof. W. J. Beal shows in a bulletin of the Michigan Agricultural College Experiment Station, our trees and shrubs in their winter garb furnish excellent lessons for the profitable employment of pupils during many weeks at that season in true botanical study. "Let each member of a class be provided with a branch, a foot or two long, from a sugar maple, and then spend some ten to twenty minutes or more quietly looking at the buds and the bark, with its sears and specks, and then tell what he has discovered, venturing to explain the object or meaning of some of the things he has seen. In a similar manner let each look over a branch of beech and then point out the difference between the two kinds." Opening buds of trees may be obtained at any time during the winter by placing the lower end of the stem in water for a week or two while in the schoolroom.

Eivind Astrup, in his book With Peary near the Pole, gives admiring pictures of the natural innocence of the uncontaminated Eskimos of northern Greenland, where are communities in which "money is unknown, and love of one's neighbor is a fundamental rule of action; where theft is not practiced." All things are held in common, and falsehoods are told only to spare the feelings of the listener. Among the instances of the native kindliness of these people is one where a dog had eaten up a reindeer coat, yet was only remonstrated with by its owner. When the author suggested that a hungry dog should be punished for stealing a piece of blubber, the owner said that it was himself who deserved the thrashing for not having obtained sufficient food for the dog.

The operations of the Illinois State Laboratory of Natural History during 1897 and 1898 were almost wholly connected with the work of the State Entomologist or with that of the Biological Station. The former work related to various insects injurious to crops. The operations of the Biological Station were carried on with more reference to completing a formal report upon the fishes of Illinois. The work is conducted with a view to the acquisition of correct ideas of the relative abundance and local distribution of species, their haunts, habits, regular migrations, and irregular movements, their building times and places, rate of growth, food, diseases, and enemies—and, in short, the whole economy of each kind represented at the station and of the whole assemblage taken together as a community group. Extensive studies of aquatic entomology were made, and a paper on ephemerids and dragon flies is nearly ready for the press. No part of the work of the station, however, attracts more attention among scientific men, or is likely to lead to more interesting and important results, than the plankton work, or the systematic study of the minute forms of plant and animal life suspended in the water. Water analyses have been extensively made in connection with these studies, which, combined with the continuous biological work, will, when generalized, furnish a substantial and authoritative body of knowledge of the conditions of the waters of the middle Illinois previous to the opening of the Chicago drainage canal, useful for comparison with the results of similar studies made after that event. A summer school was conducted, with fifteen pupils, in 1898, and publications were issued.