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Popular Science Monthly/Volume 6/January 1875/Notes

< Popular Science Monthly‎ | Volume 6‎ | January 1875


During the summer, the division of the geological and geographical survey of the Territories under the charge of Prof. Powell explored Northeastern, Middle, and Southeastern Utah. In addition to the geographical and geological work, the expedition has collected, according to the Tribune, many interesting facts in ethnography. Prof. Powell has found several new ruins of ancient towns in the Colorado Valley, and has collected some specimens of ancient picture-writings, and many stone implements. Prof. Powell, we are told, is now prepared to indicate in his map the position of many scores of these ancient towns or hamlets now found in ruins in the valleys on each side of the Colorado.

Prof. Theodore Gill, of the Smithsonian Institution, and Dr. Elliott Coues, U.S.A., are engaged upon a systematic revision of the mammals of North America. The scientific competence of the authors, as well as their rare opportunities for the inspection of specimens in practically unlimited numbers, is an ample guarantee for the thoroughness of the promised treatise.

Dr. Lyon Playfair, at the recent meeting of the British Social Science Association, quoted Michelet's statement that, for 1,000 years, no one in Europe used the bath, and urged that it was no wonder that the epidemics of the middle ages cut off one-fourth of the population—no wonder that there were a spotted plague, black death, sweating sickness, dancing mania, mewing mania, biting mania, and other terrible epidemics.

In Sonoma County, California, according to the report of the Department of Agriculture, the farmers soak their seed-wheat from eight to twelve hours in a solution of sulphate of copper, in the proportion of six ounces of the salt to 100 pounds of wheat. In this way the "smut," which is a fungoid growth, is killed, and prevented from spreading from diseased to sound grains.

The council of a new college, recently opened in London for the medical education of women, includes the names of the following eminent physicians and physiologists, many of whom are also lecturers in the institution: Charlton Bastian, King, Chambers, Huxley, Hughlings-Jackson, W. L. Playfair, and Burdon-Sanderson.

About forty years ago the Government of France made a costly attempt to introduce the culture of the tea-plant into that country. Three thousand shrubs were imported and planted in various regions of France. Next year the disaster was complete. It is now known that the tea-plant does not give a crop unless with an average temperature reaching 61° Fahr., and a considerable atmospheric moisture in summer. The English Government have not been similarly deceived. Introduced on the slopes of the Himalayas at a height calculated for the suitable heat and moisture, tea now ranks among the sources of wealth of British India. With like success the cinchona is now cultivated in Asia; but botanists and meteorologists were first dispatched to the Andes to determine the conditions of its native growth.

De Candolle proposes a physiological classification of plants based on their relations to heat and moisture. He makes six divisions, viz.: megatherms, which need much heat and moisture; xerophiles, requiring dry heat; mesotherms, moderate heat; microtherms, natives of temperate climates; hekisotherms, natives of high latitudes; finally megistotherms, an exceptional group which require a mean annual temperature of over 30° C. (86° Fahr.).

A French botanist, Cosson, holds that lichens require a very pure air for their development; in fact, he thinks they afford a very delicate natural test of the purity of the atmosphere.

The Smithsonian Institution is soon to publish a memoir by Prof. Simon Newcomb, of the United States Naval Observatory, on "The General Integrals of Planetary Motion."

The French Government offers a prize of 300,000 francs for the discovery of an efficacious and economical means of destroying the phylloxera or of preventing its ravages. A commission, nominated by the Minister of Agriculture and Commerce, will determine the condition of compensation and the award of the prize.

Prof. Marsh is on his way back from his extraordinary expedition to the Mauvaises Terres of Colorado. A Tribune telegram, dated Fort Laramie, November 29th, says that the fossil-beds explored by the expedition are of the Miocene age, and rich beyond expectation. Nearly two tons of fossil-bones were collected, all belonging to tropical animals, some as large as elephants, others allied to the camel, rhinoceros, and horse.

Prof. Karl Koch has shown conclusively that China, and not Babylonia, is the home of the weeping-willow (Salix Babylonica). He describes, under the name Salix elegantissima, a new species of willow from Japan whose branches are even more markedly pendulous than those of the Salix Babylonica. One great advantage of this willow is, that it is not injured by insects.

In Montgomery, Alabama, according to a Tribune correspondent, the negroes form 69 per cent, of the population, yet of the 63 deaths in September, 53 were from the black population—in other words, 69 per cent, of the population furnishes 84 per cent, of the deaths. In October, the blacks furnished 73 per cent.

Prof. Mayer, of Stevens Institute, has invented an instrument for measuring the minutest possible variations of atmospheric pressure. A hollow metallic vessel, with unyielding walls, containing air, has adapted to it an open glass tube. In this tube is a short liquid column. The glass tube is in an horizontal position. The vessel is surrounded with melting ice, which keeps the air inside at a constant temperature. In this condition the liquid in the tube remains stationary if the atmospheric pressure outside remains constant; but any increase of pressure in the atmosphere will cause the liquid in the horizontal glass tube to move toward the vessel. The contrary motion takes place when the atmospheric pressure diminishes. These motions are registered continuously by photography.

Experiments made by Prof. Mayer show that solid cylinders of iron elongate on being magnetized, but contract to a corresponding degree in their transverse dimension, so that their volume remains constant. In hollow cylinders, on the other hand, the interior capacity is increased when they are magnetized.

No European grape-vine will thrive anywhere in the United States east of the Rocky Mountains. Prof. Planchon has written the history of the many efforts that have been at different times made to introduce into this country European vines, but the result has been failure in every case. Immigrants from France and Switzerland have repeatedly made the experiment in Kentucky, Indiana, Pennsylvania, Texas, Alabama, and Ohio; but everywhere the phylloxera has proved a deadly enemy. West of the Rocky Mountains the phylloxera does not occur, and hence California is filled with European vines.

The barbarous cruelties and needless wastefulness attending the seal-fishery, as now carried on, have received a check from the Newfoundland Legislature, which has passed a law preventing sealing-vessels from leaving port before a certain date, so as to give the seals at least another month after the breeding-season, in which the young may increase in size and value. The present practice is to kill the old seals indiscriminately, leaving the helpless young to perish by thousands. It is hoped that the governments of other countries will follow the example of Newfoundland.

Prestel, a German meteorologist, has observed a marked periodicity in the presence of ozone in the atmosphere. It is at its minimum at the end of September, increasing steadily, and reaching its maximum at the vernal equinox, after which it again diminishes.

A well-authenticated case of death from the sting of a hornet recently occurred in England. A woman was standing in the road near her house, when a hornet flew out from a nest near by and stung her on the right side of the neck. She fainted almost immediately, and expired in a few minutes.

A correspondent of the Gardener's Chronicle records a curious instance of the power possessed by the mycelium of mushrooms of penetrating bodies. One side of a mushroom-bed was of brick, four and a half inches thick, firmly set in hard lime, so close in the texture that it was impossible to introduce the point of a nail without considerable force. Nevertheless the mycelium found admission, and produced mushrooms of a considerable size on the other side. The wall, in several places, contained porous bricks and these too the mycelium found its way through.

In former times it was the custom for men of science, on making a discovery, and previous to publishing it in full, to put it in the shape of an anagram, so that in case some other investigator should make the same discovery later, and publish it, the anagram might show that the writer of it had the prior claim. At present, the usual custom is to send the discovery in a sealed packet to some academy. A correspondent of Nature, who signs himself "West," publishes a scientific discovery anagrammatically, as follows:


Now, who will be the first to find the key to this anagram?

A chemical examination of the air along the line of the London Underground Railway has shown that, when trains are frequent, the air is loaded with sulphurous-acid gas; and the authorities are now seeking a remedy for what has long been a serious annoyance to passengers.

The waters of the Great Salt Lake appear to be rising from year to year. The mountain-streams are steadily enlarging. The humidity of the atmosphere annually increases as the area of cultivation in the valleys becomes greater, and, as a consequence, the evaporation less. Tens of thousands of acres of farming, meadow, and pasture lands have been submerged along the eastern and western shores of the lake.

Frank Buckland, having counted the eggs in a single sturgeon, found that they numbered 921,600. The total weight of the eggs was 45 pounds. In one ounce there were 1,280 eggs.

This being the season for Christmas-trees, attention is called to the fact that the use of red and green wax tapers is highly dangerous, owing to the poisonous natura of the coloring-matters employed. Analysis has shown the presence in green tapers of arsenite of copper (Scheele's green) to the extent of 0.60 per cent., and of sulphide of mercury (vermilion) in red tapers to the extent of 1.93 per cent. Yellow and blue tapers, on the contrary, are pronounced harmless.

Dr. Cobbold states that cases of tapeworm are about twice as frequent among males as among females, the difference being explained, in his opinion, by the more cautious and fastidious habits of the female sex, as contrasted with males, in relation to the ingestion of underdone meat

The disappearance of nitrogenous or organic matter from running water where exposed to the air is well known. Mr. A. Winter Blyth has lately shown that water running through closed iron pipes undergoes a similar process of purification, a remarkable difference being observed between the same water before and after it passes through the mains.

"Blue Gravel" is the name given to a rock underlying the gold-bearing alluvium of California and Nevada. Mr. E. Goldsmith, in a communication to the Philadelphia Academy of Sciences, says that this "gravel" is composed of two ingredients, widely differing in age, viz., of pebbles, and a lava by which they are cemented together. Some of these pebbles appear to be derived from slate rock and others from hornblend rock. The lava is extremely brittle. In hardness it is equal to apatite. A few grains of bright-yellow gold are found in it, but how they came there it is not easy to say. Whether the gold came from the pebbles, or was ejected from the volcano, it is impossible to decide.

Dr. John L. Le Conte calls attention to the dangers attending the use of Paris green for destroying noxious insects. It may so poison the soil as to prevent the growth of all vegetation. The National Academy of Sciences has adopted the following resolution on the subject: "That a committee be appointed to investigate and report upon the subject of the use of poisons applied to vegetables or otherwise for the destruction of deleterious insects and other animals, and also the incautious use of poisons in the ornamentation of articles of food, and for decorative purposes generally, such, for instance, as the coloring of paper."

Dr.. Edward Smith, F. R. S., one of the most eminent physicians of England, died November 16th, aged fifty-six years. His researches on respiration and urea earned for him a fellowship in the Royal Society; his later researches were devoted to the investigation of the subject of dietetics. Dr. Smith experimented upon himself mostly, and thus subjected himself to many severe physical restraints in the interest of science. His published works are numerous, one of the latest being a volume on foods, in the "International Scientific Series."

Dr. Edwin Lankester, a voluminous writer on scientific subjects, and Fellow of the Royal Society, died at Margate, England, October 30th, aged sixty years. He began the study of medicine at University College, at the age of twenty, graduated at twenty-three; afterward studied botany under Lindley, and subsequently became lecturer on materia medica and botany at the St. George's School of Medicine. In 1844 he was elected secretary of the Ray Society; in 1845, was made Fellow of the Royal Society; and thereafter, to the end of his life, held successively positions of importance and trust in various scientific bodies, and as an officer of the state. His writings were chiefly on medical subjects and natural history, botany being his favorite branch of study.