Popular Science Monthly/Volume 55/October 1899/Fragments of Science

Fragments of Science.

Officers of the American Association for 1900.—The American Association, at Columbus, Ohio, elected as president for the next meeting, which is to be held in New York city, June 25 to 30, 1900, Prof. R. S. Woodward, of Columbia University. The vice-presidents-elect are: Section A (Mathematics and Astronomy), Asaph Hall, Jr., of Ann Arbor, Mich.; Section B (Physics), Ernest Merritt, of Ithaca, N. Y.; Section C (Chemistry), James Lewis Howe, of Lexington, Va.; Section D (Mechanical Science and Engineering), J. A. Brashear, of Pittsburg, Pa.; Section E (Geology and Geography), J. F. Kemp, of New York city; Section F (Zoology), C. B. Davenport, of Cambridge, Mass.; Section G (Botany), William Trelease, of St. Louis, Mo.; Section H (Anthropology), A. W. Butler, of Indianapolis, Ind.; Section I (Economic Science and Statistics), C. M. Woodward, of St. Louis. The permanent secretary is L. O. Howard, United States Entomologist, Washington, D. C.; General Secretary, Charles Baskerville, of Chapel Hill, N. C.; Secretary of the Council, William H. Hallock, of New York city. The sectional secretaries are: Section A, W. M. Strong, of New Haven, Conn.; Section B, R. A. Fessenden, of Allegheny, Pa.; Section C, A. A. Noyes, of Boston, Mass.; Section D, W. T. Magruder, of Columbus, Ohio; Section E, J. A. Holmes, of Chapel Hill, N. C; Section F, C. H. Eigenmann, of Bloomington, Ind.; Section G, D. T. McDougal, of New York Botanical Garden; Section H, Frank Russell, of Cambridge, Mass.; Section I, H. T. Newcombe, of Washington, D. C. Treasurer, R. S. Woodward, of New York city.

Graphite.—An interesting account of the history and manufacture of graphite is given by E. G. Acheson in the June issue of the Journal of the Franklin Institute. In the year 1779 Karl Wilhelm Scheele, a young apothecary in the town of Köping, Sweden, discovered that graphite was an individual compound. It had up to this time been confounded with molybdenum sulphide. In 1800 Mackenzie definitely added graphite to the carbon group by showing that, on burning, it yielded the same amount of carbon dioxide as an equal amount of charcoal and diamond. Graphite in a more or less pure state is quite freely distributed over the earth, but only in a few places is it found under conditions of purity, quantity, ease of mining, refining, and transportation to market that permit of a profitable business being made of it. Statistics for the last six years (1890-'95) show an average yearly production of 56,994 short tons. The countries contributing to the supply were Austria, Ceylon, Germany, Italy, United States, Canada, Japan, India, Russia, Great Britain, and Spain. Great differences exist in the structure and purity of the graphites furnished from the various mines. There are two general forms—the crystalline and the amorphous. The product of the Ceylon mines is crystalline of great purity, analyzing in some cases over ninety-nine per cent carbon, while that of the Barrowdale mines is amorphous and also very pure. The chief impurity in graphite is iron. It is probable that the first use made of graphite was as a writing substance. The first account we have of its employment for this purpose is contained in the writings of Conrad Gessner on Fossils, published in 1565. Its present uses include the manufacture of pencils, crucibles, stove-polish, foundry-facing, paint, motor and dynamo brushes, anti-friction compounds, electrodes for electro-metallurgical work, conducting surfaces in electrotyping, and covering the surfaces of powder grains. For most of these purposes it is used in the natural impure state. The mining and manufacture of graphite into articles of commerce give employment to thousands of people. The mines of Ceylon alone, when working to their full capacity, employ about twenty-four thousand men, women, and children. The rapid increase in the use of graphite has led to considerable discussion in recent years regarding the possibility of its commercial manufacture. It has been made in a number of different ways in the laboratory, all, however, depending on the same fundamental principle—viz., the liberation of the carbon from some one of its chemical compounds, under conditions which prevent its reassociation with the same or other elements. Mr. Acheson, who has been working for several years in an endeavor to devise a commercially successful process of manufacture, found, somewhere back in 1893, that graphite was formed in the carborundum (electric) furnaces of the Carborundum Company of Niagara Falls. Since then he has been following up this clew, and now believes that "the only commercial way to make graphite is by breaking up a carbide by the action of heat." A building for its manufacture in this way, by the use of the electric furnace, is now in course of erection at Niagara Falls.

Commercial Education in England.[1]—It is only of comparatively late years that the Government has had anything to do with the education of the people. For some centuries back all English education was practically controlled by our two ancient universities—Oxford and Cambridge. They decided what subjects were to be taught, and how they were to be taught. The control they exercised over our English schools was an indirect one, but it was none the less effectual. The schools themselves were, like the universities, independent of Government, or, indeed, of any control. The principal of these are known as "public schools," though the term "public" has of late years also been applied to the public elementary schools. These are nearly all developments of ancient foundations. Winchester, founded in the fourteenth century, and Westminster, in the sixteenth, grew up under the shadows of great religious houses; Eton was established in the fifteenth century by the monarch, close to his own palace at Windsor; Harrow, which dates from the sixteenth century, is the most important example of the most numerous class of all privately founded local schools—grammar schools, as they were generally entitled—which have developed beyond their original founders' intention, and have eventually come to attract boys from all parts of the kingdom. The best boys from all of them went to the universities, and the course of study which was most successful at the university was naturally the course of study which was preferred at the school. The literæ humaniores, which were the sum total of university education, included only Greek and Latin language and literature, mathematics, and logic. Science—I have now in my mind the education of but a single generation back—was ignored. The teaching of modern languages was perfunctory in the extreme; the same may be said of history and geography, while even English language and literature were almost entirely neglected. Now an education modeled on these lines was not ill suited for professional men—men who went from the university into law, the Church, or medicine. But it was by no means suited, especially when cut short in its early stages, for boys whose future destination was the counting-house or the shop. We are not met to consider the training of scholars, but the sort of education best adapted to the requirements of the ordinary man of business, and given under the limitations inevitable in the conditions of the case—that is to say, in a very limited period and during the early years of life—intended also not only to train the mind but to provide a means of earning a living. Commercial education must in fact be a compromise between real education and business training. The more it inclines to the former the better. With the growth of modern industry and commerce the necessity for a training better suited for the requirements of modern life became more and more evident, and the place was supplied, or partially supplied, by private-adventure schools, which undertook to provide the essentials of a commercial education. Of late years also some important middle-class schools have been founded by institutions like the Boys' Public Day Schools Company, and the Girls' Public Day Schools Company, the teaching in which is of a modern if not of a commercial character. The growth also of science had its natural and obvious effects on educational methods. Scientific teaching was introduced at the universities—it had been practically ignored at Oxford, and recognized at Cambridge only as a department of mathematics. The more important of our public schools introduced what was known as a "modern side," that is to say, an alternative course which a boy might take, and in which science, modern languages, and mathematics took the place, to a greater or less extent, of the classical languages. Other schools modified their whole curriculum in a like direction; others again almost abandoned the ancient knowledge in favor of the modern. Such, in briefest and baldest summary, is the condition at which our system of secondary education has now arrived. In the meantime, elementary education in England had been organized and systematized. At the beginning of the century elementary education was imparted to the children of the peasants and agricultural laborers in village schools, most of which were sadly inefficient. In the towns there were various charitable institutions for educating the children of those who were unable to provide education for themselves, and there were also what were known as ragged and parochial schools, which were more or less of the same character as the elementary schools of to-day. Early in the century several important societies were established—they were mostly of a religious character—for the improvement of elementary education. By their assistance schools were founded throughout the country. These were maintained by voluntary effort, and so gained their name of voluntary schools, though they received aid from the Government, an annual grant being allotted for the purpose. In 1839 a committee of the Privy Council was created to regulate the administration of Government grants for education, and this committee still remains the governing body of our education department. The Elementary Education Act of 1870, with later acts of 1876 and 1880, laid down the principle that sufficient elementary education should be provided for all children of school age, and established a system of school boards, which boards were to be and were formed in all districts where such sufficient provision for education did not exist. By a later act of 1891 education was made gratuitous as well as compulsory. We have, therefore, now two great classes of elementary schools—school-board schools, in which education is free, and voluntary schools, in which a fee may be charged. Both alike receive Government aid under certain conditions. As a rule the voluntary schools are connected with the Church of England or with one or other of the nonconformist bodies. The boards which control the board schools are elected bodies, and the teaching is undenominational.

Genius and Habit.—W. L. Bryan and N. Harter are the authors of an interesting monograph in the Psychological Review for July, from which the following paragraphs are taken: "There is scarcely any difference between one man and another of greater practical importance than that of effective speed. In war, business, scientific work, manual labor, and what not, we have at the one extreme the man who defeats all ordinary calculations by the vast quantity of work he gets done, and at the other extreme the man who no less defeats ordinary calculations by the little all his busyness achieves. The former is always arriving with an unexpected victory, the latter with an unanswerable excuse for failure. It has seemed to many psychologists strongly probable that the swift man should be distinguishable from the slow by reaction time tests. For (a), granting that the performances demanded in practical affairs are far more complicated than those required in the laboratory tests, it seems likely that one who is tuned for a rapid rate in the latter will be tuned for a rapid rate in the former, when he has mastered them. Moreover (b), a rapid rate in elementary processes is favorable to their fusion into higher unitary processes, each including several of the lower. Finally (c), a rapid rate in elementary processes is favorable to prompt voluntary combinations in presence of new emergencies. In face of these a priori probabilities, eleven years' experience in this laboratory (the first three being spent mainly on reaction times) has brought the conviction that no reaction time test will surely show whether a given individual has or has not effective speed in his work. Very slow rates, especially in complicated reactions, are strongly indicative of a mind slow and ineffective at all things. But experience proves that rapid rates by no means show that the subject has effective speed in the ordinary, let alone extraordinary, tasks of life. How is this to be explained? The following answer is proposed: The rate at which one makes practical headway depends partly upon the rate of the mental and nervous processes involved; but far more upon how much is included in each process. If A, B, and C add the same columns of figures, one using readily the method of the lightning adder, another the ordinary addition table, while the third makes each addition by counting on his fingers, the three are presently out of sight of one another, whatever the rates at which the processes involved are performed. The lightning adder may proceed more leisurely than either of the others. He steps a league while they are bustling over furlongs or inches. Now, the ability to take league steps in receiving telegraphic messages, in reading, in addition, in mathematical reasoning, and in many other fields, plainly depends upon the acquisition of league-stepping habits. No possible proficiency and rapidity in elementary processes will serve. The learner must come to do with one stroke of attention what now requires half a dozen, and presently, in one still more inclusive stroke, what now requires thirty-six. He must systematize the work to be done, and must acquire a system of automatic habits corresponding to the system of tasks. When he has done this he is master of the situation in his field. He can, if he chooses, deal accurately with minute details. He can swiftly overlook great areas with an accurate sense of what the details involved amount to—indeed, with far greater justice to details than is possible for one who knows nothing else. Finally, his whole array of habits is swiftly obedient to serve in the solution of new problems. Automatism is not genius, but it is the hands and feet of genius."

"A vague Impression of Beauty."—The following sentences occur in an article on The Real purpose of Universities in a recent issue of the London Spectator. They give so strange a picture of the ideals of the two leading English universities as to seem worthy of reproduction: "However, Dr. Hill made one statement for which we owe him a sincere gratitude. 'The excellence of the classics,' said he, 'lay chiefly in their complete uselessness.'. . . In this simple statement is expressed the true value of our old universities. They should be practically useless. They should not teach you to be a good carpenter or a skillful diplomatist. You can not march out of Oxford or Cambridge into any career which will return you an immediate and efficient income.… The other universities of Europe are prepared to cut you to a certain measure, or to render you technically competent. But our English universities have hitherto declined to discharge this humble function, save in rare lapses, from a noble ideal. They at least profess to accomplish a far greater task. There is a strange period dividing the man from the boy, which clamors aloud for intelligent discipline, and this discipline Oxford and Cambridge are anxious to supply. The undergraduate is too young to specialize, and not too old to receive instruction. When his period of training is finished he is asked to assume the heavy burdens of life, to discharge tasks which may be dull, and which are rarely concerned with what were once called the humanities. As he passes through the university he may not have the time nor the wit to become a sound scholar nor a profound mathematician. But he may, if he understand his privilege aright, linger for a while in the groves of 'practically useless' knowledge. He may learn what literature meant in an age when it was concerned only with the essentials of simplicity; he may read the lessons of history when history was still separate from political intrigue. And though he forgets his Greek grammar, though in middle life he can not construe a page of Virgil, yet he carries away from this irrational interlude a vague impression of beauty which no other course of education will ever give him." Even for the schoolmen "a vague impression of beauty," whatever that may mean, seems rather unpractical as an educational ultima Thule.

The Purple of Cassius.—There are few substances in the field of inorganic chemistry on which so much speculation and actual work has been expended as the so-called purple of Cassius. A recent article by Mr. C. L. Reese, in the Chemical News, contains some interesting information regarding this curious compound. Up to the present time there have, it seems, been two views held as to its chemical nature—one that it is a mixture of stannic acid and metallic gold; the other, that of Berzelius, that it is substantially a chemical compound of purple gold oxide with the oxides of tin possibly mixed with an excess of stannic acid. It has seemed very likely that the substance is a chemical compound of acid character, and that the solubility in ammonia is due to the formation of a salt, but it has been found that by oxidation of stannous chloride and by allowing very dilute solutions of stannic chloride to stand, the "hydrogel" of stannic acid separated out, which, on the addition of a few drops of ammonia, liquefied and so became soluble in water, just as the purple of Cassius does. There can therefore be no salt formation here. Some comparatively recent work by Richard Zsigmondy, however, seems to have finally cleared up the chemical nature of this curious substance. Its formation is explained by assuming that when stannous chloride is added to a sufficiently dilute solution of gold chloride the latter is immediately reduced to metallic gold while stannic chloride is formed. Generally after a few seconds the liquid becomes red, but the purple is not precipitated for several days, unless it is heated. The gold is not precipitated as a black powder because the stannic chloride formed is immediately hydrolized into hydrochloric acid and the hydrate of stannic acid. The latter prevents the aggregation of the gold particles, and the stannic acid remains in solution as a colloid, which on standing gradually changes under the influence of the dilute hydrochloric acid to an insoluble form, the "hydrogel" of stannic acid. By heating, this change takes place immediately. The properties of the purple of Cassius depend on the properties and character of the stannic acid present, and the great variety in the properties of the stannic acids, the ortho, the meta, and the colloidal mixtures of the two explain the many contradictions in the literature with reference to the properties of the purple of Cassius. Zsigmondy says, "I look upon the knowledge that a mixture of colloid bodies can behave, under some conditions, as a chemical compound, and that the properties of one body in such mixtures can be hidden by those in another as the most important conclusion to be drawn from this work."

The Abuse of Unskilled Labor.—The number of diseases directly or indirectly due to continued long standing is especially numerous among women. The London Lancet, which nearly twenty years ago attempted to improve matters in this respect in the case of shop-girls, has again taken up the subject, and recently published an editorial urging customers of the shops to boycott those establishments where no sitting accommodations are provided for the clerks. It says: "We, as medical men, maintain that sitting accommodations are absolutely necessary for shopgirls. The only argument having even the semblance of legitimacy which we have heard put forward in defense of the nonprovision of seats is that sitting is conducive to idleness, but in this connection such a premise can not be permitted, for an employee would be bound to come forward when an intending purchaser entered the shop.… The very fact that in many shops she is not allowed to sit down is conducive to idleness—idleness of the worst kind, the idleness of pretending to do something while in reality nothing is being done. Can nothing be done to stop this—as we once called it without the least exaggeration or sensationalism—'cruelty to women'? To the true woman—the woman with feelings for her sisters, the woman of love and sympathy, the true woman in every sense of the word—we appeal for help in this matter. If such women would abstain from purchasing at shops where they see that the employees are compelled to work from morning till night without permission to rest from their labors even when opportunity occurs, we should soon see the end of a practice which ruins the health and shortens the lives of many of our shopgirls." That there is a certain amount of danger for women from long-continued standing, to the point of exhaustion, there is no doubt, and much can be done toward improving the present conditions in this respect and in other hygienic ways in the shops. The large influx of women during recent years into the counting-room and the salesroom gives such questions an increasing importance, especially in the less skilled positions where labor combinations for mutual protection are not possible. There has already been considerable agitation of the question in this country, and there still remains much to be done. But, as Lord Salisbury pointed out in causing the rejection of a bill for remedying present shop conditions in England, it is a question not suitable for legislation, and can only be settled through the indirect action of public opinion on the shopkeeper himself.

The Occurrence of Gold Ores.—The following paragraphs are from an article by H. M. Chance in the Engineering Magazine for July, entitled The Increasing Production of Gold: "Another reason for anticipating further increase in the production of gold is found in our better knowledge of gold ores, and of the conditions under which gold occurs in Nature. Until the discovery of the Cripple Creek district the occurrence of gold as tellurid in deposits of large extent and value was practically unknown. Gold was, of course, known to occur, sparingly in some ores, partially as a tellurid associated with other minerals; but such a mineralized belt as that at Cripple Creek was entirely unknown, and such deposits were not looked for by the prospector. Similarly, we now know of another class of gold ores in which the gold occurs apparently in some form chemically combined in a siliceous matrix, often approaching a true jasper or hornstone, and showing by analysis possibly ninety-five per cent of silica. Such ores show no trace of 'free' or metallic gold, and the presence of gold can be determined only by assay or analysis. A few such discoveries have recently been made, accidentally, by inexperienced persons, who had rock assayed from curiosity. Similarly again, in the last few years gold has been found in most unpromising-looking porphyry dikes—the very rocks prospectors the world over have regarded as necessarily barren because they almost invariably fail to show any 'free' or metallic gold by the miner's quick 'horn' or 'pan' test. But mining engineers and prospectors are learning that in a mineralized region gold may occur in any rock, and hundreds of prospectors are assaying all sorts of most unpromising-looking rock, satisfied that by assay alone can they determine whether a certain rock is gold-bearing or not. This persistent and more or less systematic work now going on in every mining district must result in the discovery of many valuable deposits in unexpected localities, and ultimately promises to add largely to the annual output of gold."

  1. From a paper read by Sir H. T. Wood, at the International Congress, on Technical Education, at Venice, May, 1809.