Popular Science Monthly/Volume 59/June 1901/The Progress of Science



The annual stated meeting of the National Academy of Sciences was held in Washington in the third week in April. Professor Wolcott Gibbs, one of the two surviving founders of the Academy and the distinguished dean of American men of science, having resigned the presidency a year ago, Mr. Alexander Agassiz, of Cambridge, was elected to the office. It may almost be said that Mr. Agassiz assumed the presidency by right, as he exactly represents the hereditary distinction and aristocratic preeminence of a small and select National Academy. It is possible that such an institution belongs to the past rather than to the democracy of the twentieth century, but there is perhaps less danger in America from the preservation of precedents than from their abolition. Mr. Asaph Hall remains vice-president and Mr. Charles D. Walcott treasurer of the Academy, while the vacancy in the foreign secretaryship, caused by Mr. Agassiz's elevation to the presidency, was filled by the election of Prof. Ira Remsen, whose former office of home secretary is now occupied by Mr. Arnold Hague. Five new members were elected: George F. Becker, U. S. Geological Survey, Washington, D. C; J. McKeen Cattell, professor of psychology, Columbia University, New York City; Eliakim H. Moore, professor of mathematics. University of Chicago, Chicago, 111.; Edward L. Nichols, professor of physics, Cornell University, Ithaca, N. Y., and T. Mitchell Prudden, professor of pathology, College of Physicians and Surgeons, Columbia University. An improvement has recently been made in the manner of election to the Academy. The members have been divided into six standing committees, and a nominee must be endorsed by the committee having an expert knowledge of his qual having an expert knowledge of his qual. [In] 1899 only thirteen new members were elected, although twenty-seven vacancies occurred through death, whereas during the past three years fourteen new members have been elected. Eight foreign associates were elected: MM. Janssen, Loewy, Bornet and Cornu, of France; Professors Kohlrausch and van't Hoff, of Germany; Professor Kronecker, of Switzerland, and Sir Archibald Geikie, of Great Britain. The Henry Draper medal was awarded to Sir William Huggins, president of the Royal Society, for his investigations in astronomical physics. In the scientific sessions of the Academy eleven papers were presented, as follows:

'The Climatology of the Isthmus of Panama': Henry L. Abbot.

'The Effects of Secular Cooling and Meteoric Dust on the Length of the Terrestrial Day': R. S. Woodward.

'The Use of Formulæ in demonstrating Relations of the Life History of an Individual to the Evolution of its Group': Alpheus Hyatt.

'Artificial Parthenogenesis and its Relation to Normal Fertilization': E. B. Wilson.

'Simultaneous Volumetric and Electric Graduation of the Condensation Tube': Carl Barus.

'Table of Results of an Experimental Enquiry regarding the Nutritive Action of Alcohol, prepared by Prof. W. O. Atwater, of Middletown, Conn.': Presented by J. S. Billings.

'The Significance of the Dissimilar Limbs of the Ornithopodous Dinosaurs': Theo. Gill.

'The Place of Mind in Nature,' 'The Foundation of Mind': J. W. Powell.

'Conditions Affecting the Fertility of Sheep and the Sex of their Offspring': Alexander Graham Bell.

'The New Spectrum': S. P. Langley.

During the same week that our National Academy was meeting at Washington, the recently established International Association of Academies was holding its first regular session at Paris. This association was organized at Wiesbaden two years ago and held a preliminary meeting at Paris last year. It is composed of representatives of the great academies of the world—eighteen in all—and includes in its scope literature as well as science. The object of the Association is to promote international cooperation in scientific work; it represents a movement the importance of which is very great and the accomplishment of which is very difficult. It is probable that a more representative congress would better forward the ends in view, but it may be that such a congress can best be developed by beginning with a small meeting of eminent men. There seems, however, to be good reason to protest against the star chamber methods which the Association seems inclined to adopt. We are told of a dinner given by the municipal council of Paris, a reception by the president of the French Republic and a theatrical performance at the Comédie Française, but not the slightest information can be obtained regarding the secret sessions of the Academy, at which scientific plans were presumably considered. Questions to be taken up should be announced well in advance, and they should be carefully considered by scientific men and discussed in the scientific press. M. Darboux was acting-president for the meeting, and the honorary presidents were Dr. Mommsen, Dr. de Goeje, Sir Michael Foster, M. Berthelot and M. Gaston Boissier. We regret to learn that the delegate from the National Academy of Sciences, Prof. G. L. Goodale, was detained by illness at Geneva; otherwise all the academies were represented. The next meeting will be in London in 1904.

The Council of the American Association for the Advancement of Science held its spring meeting at Washington at the time of the sessions of the National Academy of Sciences. The report made by the permanent secretary was very gratifying. Over seven hundred new members have been elected within the past year; the membership is now larger than ever before and includes almost the whole body of scientific workers in this country. The sum of $1,300 has been saved from current receipts and turned over to the permanent fund for the encouragement of research. The arrangement by which the weekly journal 'Science' is sent free of charge to members is apparently giving perfect satisfaction and is helping the Association in many ways. Progress has been made towards securing an agreement among universities and other institutions to set aside a week after the Christmas holidays for the meetings of scientific and learned societies. The plan was unanimously approved by the Association of American Universities, and Columbia and Cornell have already taken action lengthening their vacations for this purpose. Progress was reported in the arrangements for the Denver meeting, a single fare on the railways west of Chicago having been secured. The meeting, the first to be held so far toward the West, promises to be of unusual importance. Readers of this journal who are not members of the Association may obtain information as to the conditions of membership by addressing the permanent secretary. Dr. L. O. Howard, the Cosmos Club, Washington, D. C.


The fifty-fourth annual report of the director of the Harvard College Observatory gives a clear idea of the activity which prevails at that institution. As the present year marks the beginning of a new century. Professor Pickering finds the time opportune for describing the present condition and needs of the Observatory. As stated in the previous annual report, the invested funds amount to something over $800,000. The annual income is about $50,000, but, owing to the continued diminution in the rate of interest on invested property, the income will steadily decrease unless an additional sum is obtained. Two hundred thousand dollars more are needed to place the institution in such a condition that its standing among the great observatories of the world shall be secure. The buildings at Cambridge are old and to provide new ones, suited to modern requirements, will cost at least $100,000. The present buildings at Cambridge are valued at $52,000 and at Arequipa $12,000. The instruments at Cambridge are valued at $20,000 and at Arequipa $50,000. The great need of the Observatory in the instrumental way is a great telescope for the southern hemisphere, the cost of which for construction and maintenance, would be about $200,000. Altogether, half a million dollars are desired to make the Observatory worthy of the great future which opens before it. More money is also needed for publication. Already there have been issued by the Observatory about forty quarto volumes of the 'Annals,' embracing researches in many lines of astronomy and meteorology. An enormous amount of material, however, is still awaiting publication, sufficient to make about twenty-eight additional volumes. Some of these will be issued soon, and all as rapidly as the nature of the Mork and the funds available for publication will permit.

During the last year several lines of investigation have been pursued. Photometric and photographic determinations were made of the brightness of a great number of stars, including several hundred variables. The reduction of the observations of the zones made in former years with the meridian circle has been carried forward. As usual, the whole sky was photographed several times on a small scale. These photographic charts have proved of the greatest value in tracing the past history of new stars, variable stars and special new objects, such as the little planet Eros. Also a very large number of photographs have been made of special objects with instruments of greater power. Progress was made in the study of the spectra of the stars and several objects of special interest were discovered, including one nova. Intimately associated with the institution is the Blue Hill Meteorological Observatory—where during the year some striking experiments were carried on in kiteflying. A meteorgraph, suspended under the kite, gave records at heights as great as 15,800 feet above sea level. In Peru, the line of meteorological stations extending from the Pacific across the Andes, with one on the summit of El Misti, at an elevation of 19,200 feet, has been maintained. The Harvard Observatory acts as the distributing center in this country for all telegraphic announcements of astronomical discoveries. During the year twenty messages were sent out to American and European astronomers.


The advance sheets of the 'Bulletin' of the New York Botanical Garden for 1901, and the pages of the 'Journal,' show most gratifying progress in that institution since the preparation of the article dealing with it published in this magazine in June of last year. About seven thousand species of plants are now successfully cultivated in the open air and under glass. The large conservatories, which were completed in 1900, have been filled by plants received as gifts and as exchanges. Many donations of great value have been received from various persons, and notable exchanges have been made with the Buffalo Botanic Garden and Fairmount Park. A collection of succulents, numbering about five hundred species, purchased by Dr. N. L. Britton during his recent European tour in attendance at the International Congress of Botanists in Paris, has been recently received and is now installed in the conservatories. Mr. Samuel Henshaw resigned from the position of head gardener on January 1, 1901, and was sent on a collecting tour in the West Indies. He has recently returned with valuable material from Trinidad and Jamaica. Mr. George V. Nash, who was promoted from the position of curator of the plantations to the place of head gardener, spent February and March at the Royal Gardens, Kew, by special invitation, for the purpose of selecting from the duplicates of the immense collections of living plants. About two thousand species were secured, the greater number of which promise to thrive, and form the most valuable single addition yet made to the flora of the Garden. Mr. Percy Wilson, museum aid, was sent with the Amherst Astronomical Expedition to Sumatra in March and will spend about six months in that region securing specimens for the economic museum and living plants for the horticultural houses. Other explorations are projected for the present season.

A set of propagating houses was erected at a cost of $16,000 in the latter part of 1900, some new road and pathways built to it, and other ground improvements made. The New York Central and Hudson River Railroad has completed a station on the margin of the grounds, which enhances the beauty of one of the principal approaches to the Museum. Contracts aggregating nearly $200,000 have been let for the present season, embracing the completion of the main horticultural houses, main approaches and grounds in front of the Museum, fountains, roadways and areas round and near both buildings. The income of the Garden from all sources amounts to over $75,000 for 1901. The library was increased by over fifteen hundred volumes and a large number of separates during the year 1900. The herbarium received additions amounting to about seventy thousand specimens, inclusive of the Morong Herbarium of Barnard College, which is deposited under the same conditions as that of Columbia College. Dr. T. F. Allen, the noted socialist on the Characeæ, has recently given his collection of that group to the Garden without reserve, and it is now in process of arrangement under Dr. Allen's supervision. The economic museums have been filled out in many important particulars, but remain in a skeleton state, as a number of years will be necessary to make an adequate representation of many of the subjects taken up. The exhibition microscopes installed a year ago have been objects of great interest and profit to visitors.

The laboratories have accommodated twenty-eight investigators during the year, and the results of some of their researches have been published as contributions, or are being offered as theses, by candidates for degrees at various universities. These investigations extend over the entire range of botany. The equipment has been steadily increased to meet the varied needs of these workers, and the experimental greenhouses afford valuable supplemental facilities in such work. In addition to these original researches. Dr. N. L. Britton has finished a 'Manual of the Plants of Eastern United States,' which is being published by the Henry Holt Company, and Dr. D. T. MacDougal has written an advanced text-book of 'Practical Plant Physiology,' published by Longmans, Green & Co. Seventeen popular lectures were given in the lecture hall of the Museum in the winter of 1900-1901, which were attended by one to five hundred people. The annual meeting of the Horticultural Society of New York was held at the Garden, May 8 and 9, 1901, and the exhibition was notably successful.


In the Electrical World and Engineer for January 5, 1901, the first number of the twentieth century, appeared a series of articles on the past progress of applied electricity and upon its prospects for the future. Among the authors are some of the most prominent of American electricians, such as Elihu Thomson, A. E. Kennelly, Louis Bell, Kempster B. Miller, Carl Hering, H. Ward Leonard, Patrick B. Delany, and some of the more prominent men in science. The various papers are quite largely devoted to statements of the unsolved practical and theoretical problems, in so far as they are capable of statement.

In the line of theory and research the most promising field seems to be the development of the electron theory which has been in the past mainly built up on experimental studies of the electrical discharge in gases. This theory is an attempt to represent all electrical phenomena in terms of the conception of the electron, an excessively minute charged particle, a thousand times smaller than an atom. This theory has already given a remarkably clear insight into the electrical properties of gases, and tentative explanations of the most promising kind of the ultimate constitution of matter, and of the nature of gravitation, two of the most stupendous problems of the present day in physics.

Among the purely practical problems, purely practical because the scientist has, one might almost say, given it up in despair, is the production of electrical energy direct from coal. One can say almost to a certainty that if one is to transform a large percentage of the latent energy of coal into electrical energy the coal must not be burned. The mischievous waste at present endured seems to be inherent in the burning process, but the wildest dreamer has never imagined that coal can be of any use other than for feeding a fire! There does seem to be a difficulty here, and perhaps the example of the scientist who revels in thermodynamics might just as well be followed by the inventive practical man. One thing, however, is certain and that is that the solution of this problem depends upon the invention of a new kind of fire which can be stopped in mid air, as it were, by a turn of the hand, each atom of carbon and each atom of oxygen stopping its mad whirl to begin it again at our pleasure, standing in the meantime in a state of quiet expectancy. Such a fire the physicist would call a reversible fire. The burning of zinc in a voltaic cell is indeed such a fire, and most of the attempts to transform the latent energy of coal into electrical energy efficiently have been attempts to construct a voltaic cell which will burn coal. Another kind of reversible fire might be realized in the gas engine if we had materials, to build a gas engine of, which would stand excessively high temperatures and excessively high pressures. In such a gas engine a mixture of gas and air could be enormously compressed and made so hot that it could not burn, then by expanding the mixture combustion would slowly take place and in such a way that to stop expanding would be to stop the combustion. Such combustion would be reversible, for to recompress the mixture would literally unburn it. Such a gas engine would have a very high efficiency if one could keep the cylinder from being cooled by the surrounding air.

The burning of food in the body of a work horse is a case in which an unusually large percentage of the latent energy of the fuel, or food, is converted into useful work, and thermodynamics tells us beyond peradventure that this high efficiency must be due to a state of affairs something like the following: Let us imagine the muscles built up of enormously complicated molecules, like the molecules of albumin for example, and let us imagine that as a muscle contracts these complicated molecules are distorted slowly, and that as they become distorted some of the atoms of carbon and hydrogen are slowly bulged out of the molecular structure and gingerly allowed to approach the atoms of oxygen in the blood in such a way that the process would be arrested at any moment by a cessation of the contraction. If such a process could be completely realized and if the atoms of oxygen could also be kept at bay by being themselves involved in some fashion in the bulging process of the muscular structure, then the efficiency of muscular action would be one hundred per cent. It is in fact much less than one hundred per cent., on account, perhaps, of the oxygen molecules being unbridled.


The seventh annual report of the Wisconsin Agricultural Experiment Station is a notable example of a class of literature which is rapidly increasing in extent and in popular interest. The reports of this station have become widely known for the important contributions which they contain and for their interest to those who follow the progress of science, as well as to the progressive farmer, whose needs are kept constantly in view. The last report, which is for the year ending June 30, 1900, is fully up to the standard of previous reports. It adds another chapter to the interesting studies on the process of cheese ripening or curing which Dr. Babcock and Dr. Russell have been conducting for a number of years. In the past their studies have led to the discovery of a natural enzym in milk which has been shown to be an active agent in the digestion of the proteids of cheese, rendering them soluble and digestible. This discovery, which was contrary to the prevalent bacterial theory and was opposed by many bacteriologists, has stood the test, and the theory is now generally believed in, the main point at issue being the extent and the exact character of the changes which the ferment induces. The present report takes up the action of another ferment in cheese, namely, rennet which is added during the process of manufacture. There has been much diversity of opinion as to whether the rennet had any part in the ripening process, but very little real investigation. The most recent writings on the subject have disclaimed any action due to rennet. Babcock and Russell now show that rennet undoubtedly assists in peptonizing the casein of cheese, the active agent being the peptic enzyms contained in the rennet extracts. The investigation is a quite comprehensive one, involving a study of the action of pure pepsin as compared with rennet, the conditions of the acidity most favorable to the action, and the nature of the products. The matter is of considerable importance, since it is found that the amount of rennet used influences the rapidity and the thoroughness of the ripening process. The wonder is that a point upon which there has been such marked discrepancy of opinion has not been given a thorough investigation before this.

Of equal interest is the investigation of the cause and character of the changes in green fodder when preserved as silage in the silo, also by Drs. Babcock and Russell. The generally accepted theory of silage formation as fermentation changes, due to the action of bacteria and molds, is found to be erroneous, inasumuch as good silage was made under conditions which positively precluded bacterial activity, i. e., in the presence of anæsthetics. With the aid of an ingeniously-devised closed-circuit respiration apparatus, the authors were able to study the gaseous products and to maintain the conditions entirely under their control. The unavoidable losses in ensiling green fodder were found to be due to the formation of water, carbon dioxid and volatile organic acids, which are produced, not as a result of the bacterial action, but as a result of the intromolecular respiratory processes of the plant tissues. The avoidable losses, on the other hand, are found to be due mainly to the decomposition of organic matter induced by the development of bacteria and molds, whose growth is greatly facilitated-by the admission of air, as a result of improper construction of the silo. The bacteria are, therefore, instead of being essential to good silage, only deleterious. In view of the extent to which silage is now prepared in this country, and the fact that the spoiled or partly spoiled silage is not only a loss but is likely to be injurious to stock, these results, which furnish a clearer understanding of the factors which enter into the process, cannot fail to be of much practical importance. A study of the thermal death point of tubercle bacilli in milk confirmed the results of the previous year, showing that by using a closed pasteurizer tubercle bacilli can be destroyed by heating milk for twenty minutes at 140° F., instead of at 150-155°, as formerly. This lowering of the necessary temperature removes the objection formerly made that cream does not rise readily on pasteurized milk and that the consistency or body of pasteurized cream is much lessened.

The soil investigations of the Wisconsin Experiment Station have come to be regarded as one of its most prominent features. In addition to investigations on the soluble salts of cultivated soils, the influence of potash salts on the black marsh soils of the State, which have been exceedingly difficult to manage, Professor King reports studies of the influence of the right amount and the right distribution of water in crop production—a subject upon which information is quite meager and which points directly to the application of irrigation, even in humid climates, to correct insufficient or inadvantageously distributed rainfall. In the horticultural line. Professor Goff has for several years been studying the injury to the buds and roots of fruit trees from cold, and in the present report he gives an illustrated account of his investigations on the time of formation and the development of the flower buds, and also on the resumption of root growth of fruit trees in the spring; and his assistant gives the results of systematic observations on the duration of the growth period in fruit trees. These subjects are closely connected with the management of fruit orchards and will furnish a rational basis for practice. In addition to these lines of investigation, the report also contains accounts of feeding experiments with pigs, sheep and dairy cows, to answer more immediately practical questions; studies of various factors influencing the Babcock milk test, a rapid method for the estimation of salt in butter, a trial of a new kind of churn, operated by forcing a steady stream of air into the cream, for which great claims have been made; studies of the effect of the continued use of immature seeds; studies relating to tannery refuse and hides as causes of the disease in animals known as anthrax; experience with sugar beet culture in Wisconsin, and several other lines.

Altogether, the report is one of surpassing interest, and the results of quite a part of the experiments and investigation will not be confined in their application within the borders of the State. If any indication is needed of the importance of the work being done by the agricultural experiment stations of this country and the wisdom of Congress in continuing liberal appropriations for their work, this report should go a long way in the direction of furnishing such indication.


Science in America could have suffered no more severe loss than the death of Henry Augustus Rowland, professor of physics in the Johns Hopkins University. Dying at the age of fifty-two years, he was one of the world's most eminent men of genius and one of the two great physicists that America has produced. An account of Rowland's life and work, with a portrait, was published in the Popular Science Monthly for May, 1896, and we reproduce in the current number an address given by him some years ago before the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

We note with regret a number of other recent deaths among men of science, including: Thomas Conrad Porter, the botanist, for the past thirty-four years professor at Lafayette College; John Thomas Duffield, for more than forty years professor of mathematics at Princeton University: Richard T. Roth well, editor of the ' Engineering and Mining Journal'; Frederick J. Brockway, assistant demonstrator of anatomy at the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Columbia University; F. M. Raoult, the eminent chemist, professor at Grenoble; Paul Chaix, professor of geography at Geneva; Josef von Fedor, professor of hygiene at Buda Pesth, and Adolph Hirsch, professor of astronomy at Neuchatel. Two men of science lost their lives in the direct pursuit of knowledge: Dr. P. Kohlstock died at Tien-Tsin, while making researches on tropical diseases, and Dr. Menke was murdered by natives while on an exploring expedition to Macquari Island.

The erection of a memorial to Huxley in Ealing, near London, where he was born and received his early education, is contemplated. A bronze medallion portrait has been advocated for the central feature of the design, which may take the form of a simple mural tablet or of a more worthy monument as funds are obtainable. Subscriptions are not confined to the neighborhood or land of Huxley's birth, and those who may be desirous of assisting should communicate with the secretary to the fund, Mr. B. B. Woodward, 120 The Grove, Ealing, London, W.

A meeting was held at Cambridge University on April 27 to arrange for some acknowledgment of the services to science and the University of Prof. G. D. Liveing. Professor Liveing is now seventy-three years of age. Ii> 1852 he organized the chemical laboratory at Cambridge, which was the first scientific laboratory in the University.—Mr. Herbert Spencer celebrated his eighty-first birthday on April 27. Mr. Spencer lives quietly at Brighton. His health is fair, but he is unable to undertake much literary work.—A silver loving cup was presented by a number of teachers to Mr. Thomas Meehan, the veteran horticulturist and botanist, of Philadelphia, on the occasion of his seventy-fifth birthday.

Dr. Edmund Arthur Engle, professor of mathematics at Washington University, St. Louis, and dean of the College of Engineering, has been elected president of the Worcester Polytechnic Institute.—Mr. J. H. H. Teall has succeeded Sir Archibald Geikie as director-general of the British Geological Survey.

Several important scientific positions under the government will be filled by civil service examination on June 3. These include the positions of plant physiologist and plant pathologist in the Department of Agriculture, with salaries of $1,800 per annum, and the position of ethnologist in the Bureau of American Ethnology, with a salary of $1,500. Further particulars can be obtained by addressing the Civil Service Commission at Washington, D. C.

At the last meeting of the Rumford Committee of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences a grant of $300 was awarded to Prof. Arthur A. Noyes in aid of a research on the effect of high temperatures upon the relative conductivity of aqueous salt solutions.—Dr. Edmund B. Wilson, professor of zoology at Columbia University, and Dr. J. Playfair McMurrich, professor of anatomy at the University of Michigan, are among the Americans who will attend the International Zoological Congress to be held in Berlin from the 12th to the 19th of August.

The arrangements for the celebration of the bicentennial of the Yale University in October next have now been made public. The addresses include one by President Gilman, of the Johns Hopkins University, on 'Yale in its Relation to Science and Letters,' and one by Prof. W. H. Welch, of the same University, on 'Yale in its Relation to Medicine.'

The United States Department of Agriculture has established an agricultural experiment station in Porto Rico, which will be under the direction of Mr. Frank D. Gardner, now of the Division of Soils.