Popular Science Monthly/Volume 60/November 1901/The Progress of Science



The national scientific associations of Great Britain, Germany and France held their annual meetings during the month of September. The British Association met at Glasgow, under the presidency of Professor A. W. Rücker, the eminent physicist. Professor Rücker, who has recently been elected president of the reorganized University of London, gave an excellent address on the present trend of opinion in regard to the atomic theory; and the addresses of the presidents of the sections were of the usual high order. The section of education, organized for the first time, attracted special attention; we are, therefore, fortunate in being able to publish in this issue of the Monthly the presidential address of Sir John Gorst. The attendance at Glasgow—1,912—was above the average, but not so large as at the previous Glasgow meetings of 1855 and 1876, the sesquicentennial of the University, the Engineering Congress and other events having anticipated local interest in scientific matters. The sum of £1,000 was appropriated for scientific grants. The meeting of the Association next year will be at Belfast under the presidency of Professor James Dewar, the well-known chemist.

The seventy-third meeting of German Men of Science and Physicians was held at Hamburg, with Dr. R. Hertwig, professor of zoology at Munich, as president. Professor J. H. Van't Hoff, the eminent chemist of Berlin, was president of the scientific sections and Professor B. Naunyn, professor of medicine at Strassburg, of the medical sections. There were in all twenty-seven sections for the medical sciences and eleven for the natural and exact sciences. The attendance was large—some 5,000 members—and the programs important. Special lectures were given by Dr. E. Lecher on 'Hertzian Waves,' by Professor T. Boveri on 'Fertilization' and by Professor W. Nernst on 'Electro-chemistry.'

The French Association met on the Island of Corsica under the presidency of M. Hamy, whose address reviewed the beginnings of anthropology in France. Owing doubtless to the centralization of scientific work at Paris, the migratory meetings of the French Association are less well attended than those of Germany and Great Britain, and the papers presented are less numerous and important. The Association, however, performs a useful work, and having a large endowment (some $270,000) is able to make liberal grants for scientific research.


The award of the first Nobel prize to Professor J. P. Pawlow, the widely known physiologist of St. Petersburg, is a well-deserved testimonial to his valuable and extensive contributions to experimental science. During the last twelve years Professor Pawlow has been engaged more particularly in the study of certain aspects of nutrition, and in this work he has enlisted the services of a considerable number of co-workers in his laboratory at the Imperial Institute for Experimental Medicine in St. Petersburg. The researches which these years brought forth have led physiologists to revise ill many particulars the current teaching in regard to digestion and secretion. Most of the results obtained by Pawlow and his pupils were originally published in the 'Archives des Sciences Biologiques de St. Petersbourg,' and in inaccessible Russian journals and dissertations. The more important facts and conclusions were, however, collected and presented in organized form in a series of lectures delivered at the Institute for Experimental Medicine. These lectures, originally published in Russian, have been translated into German and issued in book form ('Die Arbeit der Verdauungsdrüsen,' Wiesbaden, 1898; J. F. Bergmann). They have been widely read and have received abundant praise everywhere. The chief merit of Pawlow's work lies in the application of new experimental methods to the solution of important problems in the physiology of secretion and digestion. Thus the introduction of the combined œsophageal and gastric fistulas has led to original observations on the mechanism of secretion; while the possibility of obtaining pure gastric juice has given rise to renewed chemical investigation of the composition and properties of this secretion. By an ingenious method of isolating completely a portion of the stomach while keeping unimpaired the nerve distribution to the isolated part, still further advances have been made. Other methods have been applied by Pawlow to the study of the function of the pancreas and the production of the bile. The specific influence of the nervous system on secretion, and the paths along which this is exerted, have been ascertained more definitely than ever before. Pawlow's contributions to experimental technique in these departments of investigation are unique, and their influence is already shown in the renewed interest which they have aroused lately in the study of digestion in general. To the more purely chemical aspects, also, this brilliant investigator has directed his attention. A prominent German physiologist has remarked that so many noteworthy results have not been achieved by any single investigator (together with his pupils) since Beaumont and Blondlot, and, in more recent years, Heidenhain.

In addition to these researches, mention may be made of the splendid investigations on the seat of urea formation in the animal body, which were carried out conjointly with Professor Nencki. Here again it was the application of new experimental methods—the Eck fistula operation, by means of which direct communication is established between the portal vein and the vena cava in mammals—which inaugurated a fresh series of important contributions on the rôle of the liver in intermediary metabolism.

Aside from the clear analysis of the problems involved and the originality of the methods applied, accurate observation and unremitting energy characterize Professor Pawlow's work. Every result obtained is verified until it stands as a permanent fact. Physiologists will rejoice at the fitting recognition which such successful achievements have received.


During the past few years the export of dried apples and other fruit from this country to the continent of Europe has been greatly interfered with by the presence of zinc; the discovery of traces of this metal in the fruit has been deemed sufficient ground for prohibiting its importation. The presence of the zinc has been accounted for by the zinc trays used in the fruit driers, but the abandonment of the metal for this purpose has not sufficed to free the fruit from suspicion. A service has been rendered American fruit growers by an investigation recently carried out by Herr Soltsien, of Görlitz. He was incited to this by the detection of quite a strong trace (0.0067 %) of zinc in some American 'evaporated apples,' which had evidently not been dried on zinc trays. He finds that when zinc is present in the soil or in the atmosphere, it is readily taken up by plants, and, by consumption of such contaminated vegetables and fruit, even into the human body. This was confirmed by finding traces of zinc in a number of corpses. He enumerates many ways by which zinc was found to enter the soil, among which are the following: The drainage waters from many foundations contain considerable quantities of zinc. In all regions where zinc smelting is carried on, or where there are zinc or brass foundries, the vegetation contains zinc; this arises from the fact that the particles of zinc oxid are extremely light and are carried to great distances in the atmosphere. In one instance the effluent from a slaughter house was precipitated by an effective chemical for the purpose which was sold under the name of 'sulfate.' This precipitant was found to be a very impure zinc sulfate, containing much iron and manganese. The excess of the substance passed into the stream contaminating it with zinc, while the precipitate, consisting largely of zinc albuminate, went with the other slaughter house refuse as fertilizer. It is quite possible that much of the 'tankage,' so largely used in this country in the manufacture of fertilizers, contains no inconsiderable quantity of zinc. Where zinc is thus present in the fertilizer, it would be apt to pass in traces into the fruit raised on soil thus fertilized. It is reasonable to suppose that such minute quantities of zinc would be perfectly harmless when taken into the human system, but their detection would serve to throw unjust discredit upon American fruit growers, long after they have ceased to use zinc in any part of the evaporators with which the fruit can come in contact; at least when preparing dried fruit for the export trade, these precautions have for some time been taken.


About forty years ago Maxwell pointed out the main features of the electromagnetic theory of light. This theory very soon supplanted the old mechanical wave theory, or the elastic solid theory; and now the fundamental notions in light are purely electric or electromagnetic in character. It is very remarkable, however, that aside from the change in the fundamental notions themselves the old theoretical structure remains to a very great extent unchanged and that even the old nomenclature lends itself easily to the needs of the new theory with few exceptions. The change that has followed upon Maxwell's work is very like the moving of a house from old to new foundations.

There is at the present time a prospect of a similar transfer of the entire subject of mechanics to a purely electromagnetic foundation. Every one realizes that the notions of inertia and of gravitation, and the principles involved in Newton's laws of motion are far too abstract in their nature, and as elemental notions they are far too complicated to be entirely satisfactory as a basis for the most concrete of the physical sciences. It seems that the theory of electromagnetism is to supply precisely what is needful to reduce mechanics to a more elemental basis. The change, if it come, will no doubt be similar to the change which has taken place in the theory of light; the superstructure of theoretical mechanics and even the nomenclature will remain to a great extent unaltered.

The possibility of explaining the inertia of matter electrically was first shown by Heaviside. A charged body has more momentum when moving at a given velocity than if it were not charged, and if the body is small enough in comparison with its charge all its momentum may be accounted for in this way.

The possibility of explaining gravitation was first pointed out by H. A. Lorentz, who attributes it to an excess of attractive over repulsive forces of electric charges.

A remarkable consequence of Heaviside's theory of inertia is that acceleration is not strictly proportional to accelerating force and that kinetic energy is not strictly proportional to the square of the velocity of a moving body.

Up to the present time a very prominent feature of physical science has been the reduction of every kind of phenomenon to mechanics. The notional elements out of which nearly every theory is built up are essentially mechanical in their nature, if one may use the term mechanical in a broad sense to signify all kinds of geometrical, kinematical and dynamical relations. The reason for this preponderating role of mechanics is that, hitherto at least, only those theories are effectively useful which are built up out of sensuous elements, and nearly all our complicated sensations refer to space relations as perceived with the eye and to dynamic and space relations as perceived by the sense of touch and by the so-called muscular sense. It is not likely that the transfer of mechanics to an electromagnetic foundation will greatly affect the preponderating role of concrete mechanics in physical science.


Zoology also has its fashions. The publication of the 'Origin of Species,' by establishing a new standpoint and new problems, led zoologists to an ever minuter study of comparative morphology, already made fashionable by the work of Cuvier, Johannes Müller and Owen. On the discovery of the chordate affinities of the Tunicates by Kowalewsky, in 1866, an impulse was given to the investigation of comparative embryology, in the hope of further information, which, viewed in the light of the biogenetic law, might add other links to the phylogenetic chain. And later, when the science of cytology came into definite existence, the embryologist, who at first was content to carry his studies back only so far as the gastrula, was incited to delve more deeply, and for a time cell-lineage became the fashion, while, following quickly in the footsteps of this, experimental morphology became a vogue. Not that this last was an entirely new department of investigation, but rather a revival under new conditions and points of view of the methods of study employed by Trembley and Spallanzani whose experimental researches on Hydra and the earthworm respectively have reached the dignity of classics.

The latest fashion, nature-study, as it is called, is likewise a revival of older methods. It is a rejuvenescence of the natural history of the ancients, a return to the methods of Gilbert White, methods which, while they have never failed to attract, have unfortunately been sadly neglected of late by the professional zoologist. The developments of his subject have been towards ever-increasing esoterism, until the stage has now been reached when the laity has lost touch with the professional and fails to appreciate the results which he elaborates in the privacy of his laboratory, surrounded by his complicated engines for cutting sections and his multitudinous reagent bottles. In so far as this new revival of natural history methods may serve to bring about again a rapprochement of the amateur and the professional, it is to be welcomed, and important additions to our knowledge of the habits and instincts of animals and the significance of these may be expected when men, specially trained in the methods of biological investigation and thought, turn their attention to these phenomena.

But the enthusiasm which usually accompanies investigation along a new line must not blind to the danger which lurks beneath. The hope which lies in the departure is that it will tend to place the study of instincts and habits on a scientific basis and yield scientific results founded on careful and accurate observations, that, in a word, it will bring order into the chaos of observations now on record. Of indiscriminate observation there has already been too much; what is needed is discrimination. There is danger that the camera may become as powerful a fetish as the microtome has been. To spend hours in most uncomfortable positions endeavoring to secure a nature picture is not necessarily self-sacrifice in the pursuit of science; it may result in the securing of a pretty picture but it may result in nothing more. Pretty photographs are of no more value than pretty microscope slides; both are valuable only for what may be learned from them, and it is the exercise of a discrimination between what may be merely pretty and what may be instructive that gives an observation scientific value. It is not more amateur photographers that are wanted but more historians of nature.


We regret to learn of the death at the age of sixty-six years of Edward W. Claypole, professor of geology at Throop Institute, Pasadena, Cal., and of the death of A. F. W. Schimper, professor of botany at Basle, who died on September 9, at the age of forty-five years.

The eightieth birthday of Professor Rudolf Virchow, which occurred on October 13, has been celebrated in Berlin with elaborate ceremonies. There was a reception in the Pathological Institute in the afternoon and a banquet in the dining hall of the Prussian Diet in the evening, followed by an official reception in the parliament hall. Professor Waldeyer, secretary of the Berlin Academy of Sciences, presented 50,000 Marks, subscribed by medical men in Germany toward increasing the Virchow research fund. The event was also celebrated in New York and other cities. The municipality of Berlin has resolved to call its new hospital, containing beds for 1,700 patients, the Virchowkrankenhaus.

A statue of Pasteur was unveiled on September 9, at Arbois, where he spent his childhood and his holidays in later life. The monument, erected at a cost of over $10,000, was designed by M. Daillon and represents Pasteur seated. On the pedestal are two bas-reliefs, one representing inoculation against rabies and the other agriculture profiting from Pasteur's discoveries. On the occasion of the unveiling addresses were made by M. Decrais, French minister of the colonies, and M. Liard, representing the Department of Public Instruction.

President Seth Low presented his resignation to the trustees of Columbia University on October 7. It was accepted with expressions of deep regret, and Dr. Nicholas Murray Butler, professor of philosophy and education, was made acting president.

Surgeon-general George M. Sternberg has returned to Washington after a tour of inspection in the Philippines. —Mr. John A. Fleming, of the U. S. Coast and Geodetic Survey, has arrived in Honolulu for the purpose of erecting and conducting a station for the study of terrestrial magnetism.

Mr. J. E. Spurr, of the U. S. Geological Survey, who has been employed for geological surveys by the Sultan of Turkey, has begun work in Macedonia and Albania.

The Fifth International Congress of Physiology was opened on September 17 in the physiological laboratory of the University of Turin, under the presidency of Professor Angelo Mosso. Sir Michael Foster was elected honorary president. More than 200 physiologists were present, and 186 communications were announced.—The Congress of the International Association for Testing Materials was held at Budapest, from September 9 to 14, under the presidency of Professor L. von Tetmajer, and was largely attended by engineers from all parts of the world.