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Popular Science Monthly/Volume 57/May 1900/Fragments of Science

< Popular Science Monthly‎ | Volume 57‎ | May 1900

Fragments of Science.

Ventilation of Tunnels.—The question of the ventilation of tunnels forms the subject of a series of articles, by M. Raymond Godfernaux, published recently in Le Génie Civil. The principal sources of definite information, upon which the discussion of M. Godfernaux is based, are the reports of the committee on ventilation of tunnels of the Metropolitan Railway of London, and of the commission appointed by the Italian Minister of Public Works to investigate the tunnels of the railways of the department of the Adriatic. Although the vitiation of the air in a tunnel may proceed from three sources—i. e., the lighting, the respiration of the passengers, and the combustion of the fuel in the engines—yet the two former sources are insignificant compared with the latter, which alone need be considered. The principal products of combustion which are injurious are carbonic acid, carbonic oxide, and sulphurous acid. Of these it is found that the proportion of carbonic oxide should not exceed 0.01 per cent, which corresponds to 0.13 per cent of carbonic acid in excess of the normal proportion of 0.03 per cent and to 0.00027 per cent of sulphurous acid. In practice it is found that if the total proportion of carbonic acid be limited to 0.15 per cent the proportions of the other gases will be well within the comfort and danger limits. This is much lower than is often attained in crowded auditoriums, where the proportion of carbonic acid sometimes reaches 0.4 to 0.5 per cent, but in such cases there is no carbonic oxide produced, while in the case of tunnels traversed by steam locomotives we may assume that the carbonic oxide will be about 1 to 13 of the carbonic acid, and the sulphurous acid about 1 to 440. Assuming a given limit of deterioration of the air, it would be easy to devise a system of ventilation if it were possible to treat the tunnel as if it were a closed room or controllable space. In practice, however, the conditions are peculiar. The space to be ventilated is a long, narrow passage, usually open only at the ends, and traversed periodically often almost continuously, by trains in one or both directions, these trains emitting the objectionable gases and also disturbing the air currents best adapted to proper ventilation. How best to reconcile these conflicting conditions forms the problem under consideration. Where there are but few trains it has been proposed to close the ends of the tunnel by doors, and provide a fan exhaust or pressure system, but this method is obviously limited in its applications. The practical conditions which must be considered are those in which frequent trains in opposite directions pass through the tunnel, and these conditions M. Godfernaux has analyzed graphically in a very interesting manner. Assuming a double-track tunnel eight hundred metres (a metre contains 39.37 inches) in length, with an exhausting ventilator placed in the middle and with trains of a given gas-producing capacity passing on each track every three minutes, he constructs a diagram showing how the composition of the atmosphere of the tunnel varies at successive points, and how, by an examination of the diagram thus made, it is possible to discover the maximum vitiation of the air, and consequently the extent to which the conditions are satisfied. By one or two such constructions any such problem may be solved to a degree quite within the limits of practical work, and the effect of various systems of ventilation compared. M. Godfernaux discusses various systems of ventilation, including those involving the use of shafts, fan blowers and exhausters, and air jets, and concludes with a description of the Saccardo system, in use in the Apennine tunnel of the Bologna-Pistoia line, and to the St. Gothard Tunnel. While all this investigation and discussion is of much value, it certainly seems as if the true remedy lies not so much in the removal of deleterious gases as in the absence of their production. The substitution of electric traction avoids altogether the fouling of the air of tunnels and subways, and electric locomotives are already used in the Baltimore Tunnel in the United States and elsewhere, and it seems as if this remedy is the true one to be applied in all cases.


Liquid Air.—The following warning appears in The Engineering and Mining Journal of March 3d: "The advertisements which are now appearing in the papers all over the country of companies which are to furnish liquid air on a large scale must be accepted with a great deal of caution. The public mind has been very adroitly worked up for the reception of these by lectures, paragraphs in the press, and other well-understood methods. Undoubtedly liquid air possesses some valuable properties, and many striking experiments can be performed with it. It is not by any means certain yet that it can be prepared, transported, and used economically on a commercial scale, or that the difficulties in the way have been overcome. We do not say that they may not be overcome in the future; but to talk, as the advertisements do, of the certainty that liquid air will soon largely replace steam in furnishing motive power is going entirely too far. Such assertions have no present basis of fact to warrant any one in making them. The liquid-air people have a great deal to do yet before they can establish their claims or carry on business on a scale that will warrant the organization of ten-million-dollar companies. The question of validity of patents is also quite an open one. It is doubtful if there is any valid patent on this subject."


Taka-Diastase.—The following is taken from an interesting article, by W. E. Stone and H. E. Wright, in The Journal of the American Chemical Society: "Taka-diastase is, so far as known, somewhat similar to malt-diastase in its chemical character, viz.: a highly nitrogenous substance, readily soluble in water, and dependent upon certain conditions of temperature for its maximum activity. Its action is also affected by alkalies and acids. It is produced as the result of the growth of a species of mold (Eurotium oryzæ, Ahlberg) upon rice, maize, wheat bran, etc. For its production, as at present practiced in this country, wheat bran is steamed and, after cooling, is sown with the spores of the fungus. After twenty-four hours in culture" rooms, at a temperature of about 25° C., the fungous growth becomes visible. In forty or fifty hours the content in diastatic material has reached the maximum, and further growth of the fungus is checked by cooling. The material, now consisting of the bran felted together with fungus mycelium, is called 'taka-koji.' It may be mixed with grain or starchy materials in the same manner as malt is used, and, like malt, will speedily convert the starch into fermentable sugars. An aqueous extract of the mass may be used for a similar purpose. For the preparation of a pure product, which, however, is not necessary for ordinary industrial purposes, the aqueous extract is concentrated by evaporation, and on the addition of alcohol the diastatic substance may be precipitated as a yellowish powder, easily soluble in water, of stable keeping qualities, and possessed of an unusual power of converting starch into sugar. The medicinal preparation above mentioned is obtained in this way, and represents a fairly pure form of the diastatic principle. This bears the name of 'takadiastase.'"


Professor Agassiz's Investigations on Coral Islands.—Having steamed and observed for twenty-five hundred miles among the Paumotu Islands, Prof. Alexander Agassiz says, in a second letter from the Albatross Expedition, published in the American Journal of Science, that he has seen nothing tending to show that there has anywhere been a subsidence, but that the condition of the islands does not seem to him capable of explanation on any theory except that they have been formed in an area of elevation. All the islands examined are composed of a tertiary coralliferous limestone, which has been elevated to a greater or less extent above the level of the sea, and then planed down by atmospheric agencies and submarine erosion, and the appearance of this old rock is very different from that of the modern reef rock. In these islands the rims of the great atolls, after having been denuded to the level of the sea, are built up again from the material of their two faces, so that a kind of conglomerate, or breccia, or pudding stone, or beach rock is found on all the reef flats. On the lagoon side sand bars grow into small islands and gradually become covered with vegetation. Whenever the material supplied from both sides is very abundant the land ring becomes more or less solid; the islets become islands, separated by narrow or wider cuts, until they at length form the large islands, which seem at first to be a continuous land around the rim of the lagoon, while they are often really much dissected. In time water ceases to pass through the channels, and only the marks of them are left. Few if any of the lagoons appear to be shut off from the sea, as Dana and other writers have supposed. They simply have not boat passages. Unlike other coral regions, the Paumotu reefs seem to bear only a scanty life.


"Winking."—No satisfactory determination has been made of the reason we wink. Some suppose that the descent and return of the lid over the eye serves to sweep or wash it off; others that covering of the eye gives it a rest from the labor of vision, if only for an inappreciable instant. This view borrows some force from the fact that the record of winking is considerably used by experimental physiologists to help measure the fatigue which the eye suffers. In another line of investigation Herr S. Garten has attempted to measure the length of time occupied by the different phases of a wink. He used a specially arranged photographic apparatus, and affixed a piece of white paper to the edge of the eyelid for a mark. He found that the lid descends quickly, and rests a little at the bottom of its movement, after which it rises, but more slowly than it fell. The mean duration of the downward movement was from seventy-five to ninety-one thousandths of a second; the rest with the eye shut lasted variously, the shortest durations being fifteen hundredths of a second with one subject and seventeen hundredths with another; and the third phase of the wink, the rising of the lid, took seventeen hundredths of a second more, making the entire duration of the wink about forty hundredths, or four tenths of a second. The interruption is not long enough to interfere with distinct vision. M. V. Henri says, in L'Année Psychologique, that different persons wink differently—some often, others rarely; some in groups of ten or so at a time, when they rest a while; and others regularly, once only at a time. The movement is modified by the degree of attention. Periods of close interest, when we wink hardly at all, may be followed by a speedy making up for lost time by rapid winking when the tension is relieved.


An Ingenious Method of Locating an Obstruction.—The Engineering Record gives the following interesting account of the scientific solving of a practical commercial problem: "The pneumatic dispatch tube for the delivery of mail between the main Philadelphia post office and a branch office at Chestnut and Third Streets is a cast-iron pipe buried below the surface of the street, and in it small cylindrical carriers, six inches in diameter, are propelled from end to end by air pressure. At one time a carrier became lodged at some unknown point in the tube, and to remove the obstruction it was desirable to locate its position as closely as possible before digging down to the pipe. This was satisfactorily accomplished by firing a pistol at one end of the tube; its report was echoed from the obstruction, and indicated its position by the time required for the transmission of the sound. The pistol was fired in a hole in the side of the pneumatic tube near the end, which was capped and had a rubber-hose connection to the recording apparatus. The end of the rubber hose terminated in a chamber closed by a diaphragm about five inches in diameter, which had a stylus attached to it. A cock in the middle of the rubber hose was partly closed to reduce the force of the explosion on the diaphragm, and the pistol was fired. The sound-wave immediately produced a movement of the diaphragm, causing the stylus to make a mark on the record diagram. The hose cock was then fully opened, and when the sound-wave had traveled to the obstruction and been reflected back it again moved the diaphragm, and caused the stylus to make a second mark on the diagram. The lapse of time had been automatically recorded on the same diagram, so to determine the distance it was only necessary to note the exact interval of time between the direct and reflected reports, divide it by two, and multiply the quotient by the velocity of sound under the existing conditions." The obstruction was indicated at 1,537 feet from the diaphragm. Excavations were made at this place, and the carrier was found nearly at the calculated point. The limits of distance at which this method is applicable have not yet been determined, but Mr. Batcheller, the engineer of the Pneumatic Tube Company and the deviser of the above ingenious expedient, has found that in a tube 43.3 inches in diameter a pistol shot will vibrate a sensitive diaphragm at a distance of 65,129 feet; decreasing the diameter of the tube decreases the distance over which the pistol shot will act.


Diseased Meat in Paris.—The police of Paris, says the Lancet, have just laid hands on a vast fraudulent organization for evading the precautionary measures drawn up by the authorities for inspecting the meat distributed for consumption in the suburbs of Paris. Both for Paris and the suburbs all animals destined for food have to be killed in public slaughterhouses, where the strictest watch is kept by the municipal veterinary surgeons, who forbid the delivery to the butchers of any meat which exhibits the slightest suspicious signs. Elaborate regulations have been laid down as to the various diseases which render meat unfit for the food of man, and naturally enough tuberculosis is the complaint most rigorously watched for. The swindlers who have been arrested made up a vast organization which used to buy up from the farms of the eastern provinces and even in Germany such animals as, owing to disease, would have been refused for slaughter at the abattoirs, and, moreover, they bought them dirt cheap. These animals were then conveyed in regular herds to a small place near Paris and killed in sheds built at the bottom of an old quarry. Under cover of night the meat was taken away by the accomplice butchers and resold in the various suburban shops. In connection with this clandestine slaughterhouse the firm had a kind of cemetery, where those animals were buried the meat of which was too bad for even the swindlers to risk its sale in the market. Ivry was the place where the fraud was discovered, and the official inquiry shows that the organization was singularly complete. It is extraordinary that the slaughterhouse, which was in full work, should never have attracted the attention of the villagers, but it must be remembered that all killing was done by night and that the slaughtermen were all Germans who did not understand a word of French, and were therefore unable to engage in imprudent conversation with the neighbors.


How Aluminum is made.—In a paper read before the Manchester Junior Electrical Engineers, J. H. Henderson describes the two commercial methods of making aluminum: The agent which has made aluminum a commercial product is electricity. This is how electrolysis produces it (by one successful method): In a metal, carbon-lined crucible having two carbon electrodes, one of which acts as anode and the other as cathode, are put the following ingredients: Fluoride of calcium, 234 parts by weight; double fluoride of cryolite, 421 parts by weight; fluoride of aluminum, 845 parts by weight. To these add three to four per cent of a suitable chloride—for example, calcium chloride. To this add alumina sufficient to form a very stiff mixture. Before electrolysis can begin the above are fused by means of heat, which should not exceed 1,210° F. The heat is obtained from a furnace heated by gas, coke, or charcoal, care being taken that no gases from the furnace enter the crucible. The bath fused, the electrodes are dipped into it, the current switched on, and the metal is deposited (in the best and largest of these crucibles) at the rate of one pound per five electrical horse-power hours. The current pressure required is six to eight volts, at a density of one and a half amperes per square inch. The metal from time to time is removed from the crucible by means of a siphon or a ladle, care being taken to remove as little of the haloid salts as possible. There is another method of extraction equally successful with this, but also more economical. In this other method a set of similar ingredients are placed in a crucible having one or more vertically movable carbon electrodes, which are used as one, or a collective anode, respectively. The crucible, though lined principally with carbon, has some metal exposed to act as a cathode at the beginning of the process, this to generate heat enough to fuse the bath, after which the anode is placed so that the extracted aluminum acts as a cathode. The molten metal is from time to time run out of a tap-hole into a mold, and thence cast into ingots, or granulated by being poured into cold water. The same particulars as to results apply to this crucible furnace process also, only that not nearly so much of the bath is wasted in it, and the metal needs less purifying when molten. There are, also, no loss of time and money from the use of gas, coke, or charcoal, and of an extra furnace in this method.


"A Mechanical Bootblack."—A bootblacking apparatus is one of the latest developments of the nickel-in-the slot machine, a specimen of which is undergoing trial in a French public garden. The customer drops his coin—in the present case a ten centime, or a two and-a-half-cent piece—into the receptacle, which opens the way to a compartment where a brush cleans his boots; he next puts his feet into a second compartment and has them blackened; and then into a third, where they are polished. The operation takes about a minute and a half, and during the time the customer may watch the indications

PSM V57 D115 Shoe polishing machine.png

of its progress as they are shown upon the dial. The machinery working in the inside is very simple. An electric motor of small power—about eighteen kilogrammetres per second—controls the shaft on which the three rotary brushes are fixed, and the customer has only to unlock the machine, the same as all others of its kind, with his coin, and move the handle which opens the circuit and starts the motion. A representation of the machine at work is given in the accompanying illustration, for which we are indebted to La Nature.


The "Barisal Guns."—A curious phenomenon of unexplained sounds like those of explosions, occasionally heard in different places over the earth, has attracted much attention, has been made the subject of a book recording several hundred accounts of it, by M. Ernest Van den Broeck, of Brussels, and has already been mentioned in the Popular Science Monthly. The phenomenon has been most carefully observed in India, where it seems to have assumed a peculiarly marked form, and is known there as the "Barisal guns." M. Van den Broeck calls it "mistpoeffers," or air-puffs. The most definite description of it is given in Nature by Mr. Henry S. Schurr, as he has heard it in India, where it has been observed over a wide range, but most clearly and frequently in the Baekergunge district, of which Barisal is the headquarters. The Barisal guns are heard most frequently from February to October, not during fine weather but just before, during, or immediately after heavy rain. They always sound in triplets—that is, three reports occur, one after another, at regular intervals—and though several guns may be heard, the number is always three or a multiple of three. Sometimes only one series of triplets of sounds is remarked in a day; at other times the author has counted as many as forty-five of them, one after another, without a pause. The report is exactly like the firing of big guns heard at a distance, except that it is always double, or has an echo. A number of conjectural solutions of the phenomenon have been put forth, but none of them accounts for it as a whole in any approaching a satisfactory manner.


Photographing Live Fishes.—A number of methods are mentioned by Dr. K. W. Schufeldt, in a paper on the subject, by which fishes may be photographed in their natural element, with natural surroundings. This can be done, even under the surface of the water, by the use of certain subaquatic apparatus. By the employment of instantaneous photography some fishes have been taken in the air, as of salmon in the act of leaping, or of flying fish in flight. Such pictures, however, illustrate special habits rather than the ordinary life of the subjects. Well-arranged aquariums afford opportunities for photographing fishes in almost every condition and position, and a command of light and situation can be had in them which is of great advantage to the operator. The specimens of fish photographs published by the author with his paper are in every way satisfactory. The spots on the sun fish, for example, are almost as clear and distinct as if we had the fish lying before us in the broad light. The photograph of the pike has afforded opportunity to correct some inaccuracies in the drawing of it as given in previous works of high authority.


Marine Life at Cold Spring Harbor, Long Island.—Mr. Francis N. Beach, in presenting to the Boston Society of Natural History a list of the Marine Mollusca of Cold Spring Harbor, Long Island, speaks of the locality as representing "a fairly distinct facies of molluscan life—the fauna of the oyster beds, broadly speaking. From this point of view, its homogeneity and the absence of stragglers lend it value. Probably almost every species enumerated lives on the spot where found or in the immediate vicinity. This characteristic makes the spot a good sample of actual conditions of life in that interesting transitional region where the 'Virginian' and 'Acadian' (or 'Boreal') faunas overlap. From this point of view it is, so far from being homogeneous, strikingly heterogeneous." Of the two faunas, the southern one contributes a quota rather more than twice that of the more northern one, and the increase in the preponderance of southern forms can be detected in a range of forty miles. The author concludes from his examination that, notwithstanding the well-marked character of Cold Spring Harbor as "muddy," its molluscan fauna is determined not at all by that character, but predominantly by the depth of water and by the factors included in the "inclosedness" of the place—that is, he supposes, by the temperature, the specific gravity, the percentage of organic matter, etc. "It looks as though the various species would manage somehow to be represented on almost any stretch of shore or bottom, provided only the water conditions be right."


Farm Homes for Neglected City Children.—The system of providing homes upon farms is represented in the last annual report of the New York Juvenile Asylum as being on the wane. While from 1880 to 1890 twenty-four per cent of the children committed to the asylum were placed in Western homes, the percentage from 1890 to 1897 was only fifteen. Among the reasons assigned for this diminution are the increase of undesirable material, chiefly of races against which prejudice is strong, and the growing habit of parents expecting their children to be restored to them when their services become profitable. Placing out street waifs and neglected and dependent children in the homes of private families, the report says, has been sadly abused. The degradation and moral corruption of the condition of such children are apt to make them so refractory and unsusceptible to the wholesome influences of family life that an abrupt transfer is liable to be attended with failure and disaster. The children should therefore be previously brought under the restraining and reformatory influences of a training school. At the best, a placing-out work can not be exempt from serious contingencies. "The second decade, the adolescent age, under most favorable conditions, is the period when the will is apt to be wholly dominated by the emotions, and unless the environment is peculiarly favorable, guardianship becomes a difficult function. With an indenturing system that prolongs the term of apprenticeship for boys throughout their minority, both apprentice and guardian must possess an extraordinary measure of amiable qualities to insure a continuance of their relation through an extended period." When the boy is old enough to earn wages from strangers the temptation to leave and go out for hire is very strong, and must be met by a corresponding degree of tact and liberality; and even when interests are happily adjusted "a placing-out system ought to take account of the tastes and aptitudes of young people, and leave the way open for the deserving at a suitable age to start upon a new career."


Animals Helping One Another.—While the ruminant animals as a rule do not seem to have made any further advance toward forming communal groups than to post sentinels while pasturing together, a few marked cases are found in which a division of labor and some system of assistance seem to have been given effect. One such instance is cited in the London Spectator as having been observed by Lord Lovat in the Highland deer, where large stags have smaller stags to attend them and serve them very much as the English school bully is attended and served by his fag. Lord Lovat tells another story of compassion manifested and help afforded by a stag to a younger animal. Of three stags on the move, two jumped the wire fence, and the third, a two-year-old, halted and would not venture the leap. The two waited for some time while the little fellow ran along the fence, till the larger of them came back to coax him, and "actually kissed him several times." Finally, the animal gave up and went on, after which the little stag took courage and made the jump. The social organization is very far advanced with the beavers, and is quite elaborate with the rabbits, which excavate common and interlacing burrows, and with insects like ants and bees.


Geological Formations and Forests in New Jersey.—From a study of the relation between forestry and geology in New Jersey, Arthur Hollick finds that two distinctly defined forest zones have long been recognized in the State—a deciduous and a coniferous—the contrast between the two being so obvious as to attract the attention even of superficial observers. While the deciduous zone is roughly confined to the northern part of the State and the coniferous to the southern part, yet when the line of demarcation is carefully followed up across the State and beyond its confines it is found not to coincide with any parallel of latitude or isothermal line, and not to be entirely dependent either on topography or the physiographic conditions. "If, however, a geological map of the region be examined, the line of demarcation between the two zones will be found to follow the trend of the geologic formations whose outcrops extend in a northeast direction across the State and southward beyond. A coincidence was suggested, and it became more apparent, as the investigations proceeded, that the two classes of angiosperms and gymnosperms were severally identified with certain geological formations, and also that the distribution of many species within each of the zones was capable of. being similarly associated, and their limits of being more or less accurately defined. The deciduous zone is roughly located as lying north of a line between Woodbridge and Trenton, and the coniferous zone as being south of a line between Eatontown and Salem. Between these two lines is an area about sixteen miles wide where these zones overlap, which the author calls the "tension zone," because a constant state of strain or tension in the struggle for existence prevails in it. In the deciduous zone the geological formations are numerous, with various soils and every gradation of topography, and the diversity of trees is great. Its southern line is coterminous with the southern edge of the Triassic formation. The coniferous zone presents but little diversity in geology or topography, and little variety of trees. Its northern border is coterminous with the northern border of Tertiary gravels, sands, and sandy clays. The "tension zone" includes practically the whole of the Cretaceous plastic clays, and the clay-marls and marls.