Popular Science Monthly/Volume 60/April 1902/The Progress of Science



On February 21 and 22 the Johns Hopkins University celebrated the twenty-fifth anniversary of its founding and the installation of its second president. In Europe, where the life of a university is measured by centuries, it may be looked on as a sign of crudeness for us to celebrate the tenth or the twenty-fifth anniversary of the establishment of a university. It is, however, a notable fact that universities such as the Johns Hopkins or Chicago should have surpassed so quickly most of the great European institutions not only in size and wealth, but also in their real contributions to higher education and the advancement of knowledge. The Johns Hopkins University will always occupy an important place in the history of the American university. The opportunity given by an endowment unhampered by restrictions or precedents was fully grasped by President Gilman. He called together a small group of professors—Sylvester, Rowland, Remsen and Martin in the sciences—unequaled as leaders in research. By the establishment of a system of fellowships, a group of students was gathered together who have since represented the most advanced work of the country. In the erection of cheap buildings equipped with expensive apparatus, in the creation of working seminar libraries in place of a museum of books, in the establishment of scientific journals and in other ways, the university set an excellent example. But its chief claim to our honor is the supreme place it gave to advanced work and investigation by both teachers and students. In the recent establishment of a medical school the same methods have been followed, and the university has again led in a great forward movement.

On the first day of the exercises at Baltimore, Dr. D. C. Oilman, who guided the university during its twenty-five years and has now undertaken an equally important office in the presidency of the Carnegie Institution, gave a commemoration address. On the second day. Dr. Ira Remsen, who has been professor of chemistry since the opening of the university, was formally installed as president, and gave the inaugural address. Both addresses were of great interest not only to those who have been connected with the university, but also to all who are interested in higher education. The addresses will be found in the issue of Science for February 28, and will doubtless be published by the University. In addition to these two addresses, there was a reception, a luncheon at the hospital, a dinner by the alumni and other events. Degrees were conferred on a number of university presidents and others. Of the six to whom the doctorate of laws was awarded, on the ground of their association in carrying on the work of the university, five are men of science—Dr. J. S. Billings, Dr. G. Stanley Hall, Professor J. W. Mallet, Dr. C. D. Walcott and Professor Simon Newcomb. The same degree was given to four alumni, including Professor Josiah Royce and Professor E. B. Wilson.


It is to be hoped that the urgent recommendation for the enlargement of the U. S. National Museum made to congress by Secretary Langley will receive consideration. The present building is truly a scandal. Specimens of great value are exhibited—most of them are as a matter of fact stored out of view—in inflammable sheds. The secretary makes a comparison with the American Museum of Natural History in New York City, which shows that while the number of specimens in the National Museum is more than double the number in the American Museum, the space of the American Museum is ten times as great as that of the National Museum, and the cost of the buildings was also ten times as great. If New York City spends $4,000,000 on its museum buildings, it seems strange that the general government can not do at least as much. Our national government has been extremely liberal in its appropriation for scientific purposes, surpassing in this respect other governments, but for some reason—probably by mere accident—-the museum has been neglected. Washington is becoming a scientific center, rivaling London, Paris and Berlin, but compared with the museums maintained in these cities by the government our national museum is not creditable. The collections though large are not systematic, having resulted from expeditions, gifts and the like, while no appropriations have been available to fill in the gaps which always arise when collections are formed by such methods. The curators do not receive adequate salaries; indeed, of the twenty-one curators, twelve serve without any salary at all, and the average salary of the others is only about $2,500. The keepers of the British Museum of Natural History receive salaries of $4,000. It should be only necessary to point out these matters to congress in order that appropriations may be made for the National Museum commensurate with those of foreign governments. The difficulty is that there are no members of congress who are scientific men, or who are primarily interested in science, such as are to be found in all foreign legislatures, and there is consequently no one who will present to congress the consensus of opinion of scientific men.


National Academies had more important functions in the past than they have now. Still the honor of being officially recognized as one of a small body of eminent men may be a stimulus to scientific work, and academies may be among the best existing means of forwarding international relations. Neither in the United States nor in Great Britain has an academy of letters arisen. It seems, however, that a British Academy for the promotion of historical, philological and philosophical studies will soon be established by royal charter. The question of such an academy has been discussed in England since the organization in 1899 of the International Association of Academies. Literary as well as scientific academies are part of this association, and Great Britain can only be represented by the Royal Society. The International Association will hold its next meeting in London in 1904, and the lack of representation of historical and literary studies would thus be emphasized. The question arose as to whether the Royal Society might be enlarged to include students of history, economics, philology, etc., as was apparently intended by the original charter of King Charles II. Many members of the Society favored the plan, but it was rejected by the council. It is probable that the leading English students of the humanities from the scientific side will be permitted to organize themselves into an academy, and that there will hereafter be in Great Britain a new Royal Academy as well as a Royal Society. The National Academy of Sciences was intended to include students of economics, philology and similar sciences, but the few representatives of these sciences have died and no successors have been elected. It seems likely that, unless the National Academy decides to give recognition to sciences other than those commonly called natural and exact, the conditions that prompted the establishment in England of a special Academy may lead to a similar undertaking in the United States. The national societies devoted to history, economics, philology, archeology and the like fill most of the important functions that were formerly exercised by a national academy, but there appears to be as much reason for the students of these sciences to unite in a national academy as there is in the case of the natural sciences. There seems also reason to suppose that the societies referred to will form some basis of cooperation as the natural sciences have done by uniting in the American Association. Whether all the sciences should unite in one national academy and in one national association or whether they should divide into two separate groups is certainly a question of considerable importance.


Drs. F. G. Novy and P. C. Freer, of the University of Michigan, presented at the Chicago meeting of the American Society of Bacteriologists an important paper that has been extensively, but not very accurately, reported in the daily papers. The authors stated that their investigation was begun with the object of finding the correct explanation of the action of metals and of sunlight upon bacteria. Certain metals, such as gold and copper, exert a marked inhibiting and even germicidal effect upon some bacteria, but the interpretation of the results has not been wholly satisfactory. The fact that various surfaces, such as metals and fabrics, exert a marked effect upon the formation of benzoyl acetyl peroxide was established by the authors and served as a basis for the Adew that metals act upon bacteria by giving rise to energetic peroxides, which, of necessity, must be more active than ordinary peroxides. The action of sunlight has been ascribed by different workers to hydrogen peroxide, but the destructive action observed is greater than that which can be credited to this body. In order to substantiate the theory of the authors regarding the action of metals and of sunlight, it was deemed necessary to investigate the action of a number of known organic peroxides. The results show that some of these bodies, such as aceton peroxide and dibenzoyl peroxide, are wholly inert. On the other hand, solutions of diacetyl, benzoyl acetyl, and of benzoyl hydrogen peroxides, and of phthalmonoperacid, exert pronounced and even remarkable germicidal properties. With reference to diacetyl peroxides and benzoyl acetyl peroxide, it was shown that the bodies themselves are chemically and bacterially inert, but on contact with water they undergo hydrolysis and give rise to the extremely energetic acetyl hydrogen and benzoyl hydrogen peroxides. A solution of these peroxides (1:3,000) is capable of destroying all pathogenic bacteria. Cholera and typhoid germs added to tap water are promptly destroyed by the addition of one part of peroxide to 100,000 parts of water. The authors point out the probable value of these peroxides in the prevention and cure of these and allied diseases. The destruction of bacteria in the mouth and saliva takes place with extraordinary rapidity and the reagents have shown themselves useful in diseases of the mouth. The powerful effects of the organic peroxides is not explainable as due to nascent oxygen, since a solution of hydrogen peroxide, which will produce equal germicidal action, contains one or even two hundred times as much nascent oxygen. The authors incline to the belief that the acetyl and benzoyl ions are the active agents.


Professor S. I. Bailey, of the Harvard College Observatory, presented a paper at the Washington meeting of the Astronomical and Astrophysical Society of America, in which he said that if there were no atmosphere, there would be no twilight, and the brightness of midday would be succeeded, the moment after sunset, by the darkness of midnight. Twilight may be said to last until the last bit of illuminated sky disappears from the western horizon. In general it has been found that this occurs when the sun has sunk about 18° below the horizon. The duration of time which the sim takes in reaching this position is very different at different latitudes. At the North Pole one would have about six months of daylight, followed by nearly two months of decreasing twilight, followed in turn by more than two months of night. In summer, at latitudes greater than 50°, twilight lasts from sunset to sunrise. There is no night there during this season. In the temperate zones the duration of twilight ranges from an hour and a half to more than two hours. Within the tropics the sun descends nearly or quite vertically; but even here the time required for the sun to reach a point 18° below the horizon is more than an hour. There seems to be no reason, therefore, in the general theory, for the widespread belief that the duration of the tropical twilight is extremely brief. This idea is found not only in current popular literature, but also in some of the best text-books on general astronomy. Young's 'General Astronomy,' says: "At Quito and Lima it (the twilight) is said to last not more than twenty minutes." 'The Heavens Above,' by Gilbert and Rolfe, remarks: "Within the tropics, where the air is pure and dry, twilight sometimes lasts only fifteen minutes." Since Arequipa, Peru, lies within the tropics and has an elevation of 8,000 feet, and the air is especially pure and dry, the conditions appear to be exceptionally favorable for an extremely short twilight. On Sunday, June 25, 1899, the following observations were made at the Harvard Astronomical Station, which is situated there: The sun disappeared at 5:30 p.m., local mean time. At 6:00 p.m., 30 m. after sunset, I could read ordinary print with perfect ease. At G:30 P.M. I could see the time readily by an ordinary watch. At 6:40 p.m., 70 m. after sunset, the illuminated western sky was still bright enough to cast a faint shadow of an opaque body on a white surface. At 6:50 p.m. the illumination was faint, and at 6:55 p.m., 1 h. and 25 m. after sunset, it had disappeared. On August 27, 1899, the following observations were made at Vincocaya. The latitude of this place is about 16° south, and the altitude 14,360 feet. Here it was possible to read coarse print 47 m. after sunset, and twilight could be seen for an hour and twelve minutes after the sun's disappearance. It appears, therefore, that while the tropical twilight is somewhat shorter than occurs elsewhere, and is still further lessened by favorable conditions, such as great altitude and a specially pure air, it is never less, and generally much longer, than an hour.


The number of genera which came into existence in early geological times and have persisted until the present day is very small, and a study of the recent representatives of such genera is always of interest. The gasteropod genus, Pleurotomaria, made its appearance during the lower Cambrian period and is represented in the seas of to-day by at least four species, P. Quoyana, P. Adansoniana, P. Beyrichii and P. Rumphii. These species were founded on the characters of the shells alone, and the animal remained unknown until 1871, when Professor Louis Agassiz dredged a specimen of P. Quoyana off the Barbadoes in about 100 fathoms. Additional specimens of both Quoyana and Adonsoniana were obtained by the 'Blake' under the direction of Mr. Alexander Agassiz in 1879 and have been described by Dr. Dall and by MM. Bouvier and Fischer. More recently several specimens of P. Beyrichii have been taken off the coast of Japan from a depth of 70 to 80 fathoms and have formed the basis of a description by Mr. Martin F. Woodward, which appears in a recent number of the 'Quarterly Journal of Microscopical Science' (March, 1901).

As might be expected from its great antiquity, Pleurotomaria presents a number of primitive characteristics which throw considerable light upon the affinities of the different groups of the Mollusca. Possessing two gills, two kidneys and two auricles to the heart, it belongs to the suborder termed Diotocardia zygobranchia, a group which also includes the genera Haliotis and Fissurella; and which, on account of the approximation of its members to a greater degree of bilateral symmetry than is found in the majority of the Gasteropods, is generally regarded as being the most primitive group of its order. In several respects, however, Pleurotomaria is found to possess structural characters of a more primitive nature than those found in other diotocardiates and appears to stand in closer relation to the main line from which the monotocardia have diverged than any other recent genus.

It would require more space than can be allowed here to mention all the important results obtained by Mr. Woodward, but attention may be called (1) to the primitive condition of the nervous system, whose cells are scattered along the various connectives and are not aggregated into definite ganglia—a condition recalling that obtaining in the Amphineurous Mollusca; and (2) to the peculiar position of the supporting skeleton of the gills, which, taken into consideration with the occurrence of a well-developed spinal caecum attached to the stomach, suggests to Mr. Woodward's mind a comparison and possibly an affinity with the Cephalopods, in which similar conditions exist.


The students of the University of California held memorial exercises in honor of the late Professor Joseph Le Conte on February 26, the anniversary of his birth. Funds are being collected to assist in the erection of a granite lodge which the Sierra Club proposes to construct in the Yosemite Valley as a memorial to Dr. Le Conte.—Plans have been formed for the erection of a memorial tower and meteorological station in honor of Dr. J. P. Joule, F.R.S., at Sale, Cheshire, where he lived from 1872 to the time of his death in 1880.

Professors William James and W. Wundt, the eminent psychologists, and Professor James Dewar, the eminent chemist, have been elected honorary members of the New lork Academy of Sciences.—Professor Hermon C. Bumpus has been appointed director of the American Museum of Natural History, New York.—Professor W. H. Brewer, for thirty-seven years professor of agriculture in the Sheffield Scientific School of Yale University, will retire from the active duties of the professorship at the end of the present academic year.

It will be remembered that Mr. J. Pierpont Morgan gave last year $1,000,000 for the rebuilding of the Harvard Medical School. An equal sum has recently been given by Mr. John D. Rockefeller, and nearly the same amount has been given by others, including $250,000 from Mrs. C. P. Huntingdon and $100,000 from Mr. James Stillman.