Open main menu

Popular Science Monthly/Volume 70/May 1907/The Progress of Science



In the deaths of Berthelot and Moissan, France has lost its most illustrious chemists and the world two of its leading men of science. At the celebration held at the Sorbonne in 1901 in honor of the jubilee of the scientific work of Berthelot, Moissan said in his address: "As soon as you touch a question you extend it by generalizing it." The two great chemists indeed typify the changing conditions of scientific performance and of the scientific career. The more than a thousand publications of Berthelot cover a great part of the field of chemistry ranging from minute researches to the widest generalizations. He was a historian, an archeologist, a man of letters, an educational administrator and a statesman as well as a chemist. Moissan, on the other hand, obtained eminence by methods which it appears must become more common with the increasing specialization of science—intensive work in a comparatively narrow field.

Marcelin Pierre Eugène Berthelot was born eighty years ago, the son of a physician. His first scientific work, published in 1850, was on a method of liquefying gases. His thesis for the doctorate was on glycerine and the fats, opening up important questions in organic chemistry, which he followed by his work in synthesizing fundamental organic compounds, such as alcohol, acetylene and benzene. Berthelot then spent fifteen years attempting to lay the foundation of chemical mechanics by a study of the heat changes involved in chemical reactions. While all his principles have not been accepted, this work is one of the most important in the history of chemistry, both as regards detailed discoveries and broad generalizations. One of its incidental results was his study of explosives and the theory of explosion. Berthelot next turned his

PSM V70 D479 Plaque made for berthelot anniversary.png
Plaque Struck in Honor of Berthelot on the Occasion of the Jubilee of His Scientific Work.

PSM V70 D480 Henri Moissan.png


attention to problems of vegetable chemistry, discovering the methods by which free nitrogen can be fixed under the influence of electrical discharge and the part played by the microbes of the soil in the fixation of nitrogen. For these researches a laboratory was built for him at Meudon. At the same time Berthelot published a series of important works on the history of chemistry and of alchemy, showing wide scholarship and archeological research. He also published a series of works on the philosophy of science, of ethics and of education.

Berthelot was active in public fairs. During the siege of Paris he was president of the committee on defense, in 1876 he was appointed inspector general of higher education and in 1881 he was made a life senator. He was for a time minister of public instruction and later minister of foreign affairs. He was for many years permanent secretary of the Paris Academy of Sciences and was a member of the French Academy.

Returning from a meeting of the academy, Berthelot survived the shock of his wife's death by only a few minutes. The public funeral voted by the parliament before its adjournment as a mark of respect, the ceremonies of the national funeral at the Panthéon and the closing of all schools in France demonstrate in how high honor the French people hold their eminent men of science.

Henri Moissan was born in 1852, and his first work, published in 1874, was concerned with the absorption of oxygen and the emission of carbonic acid by plants kept in a darkened room. In 1880 he received the doctorate of science for work on the oxides of the metals of the iron group. He became eminent for his work on the isolation of fluorine, which he communicated to the Paris Academy in 1886, and which was followed by important researches on the chemical and physical properties of fluorine and its compounds. Subsequently Moissan took up the subject of high temperature researches, and became popularly known for the artificial production of diamonds. In his work with the electric furnace, Moissan investigated in detail a number of individual chemical reactions, including the formation of calcium carbide, which have been of great importance for the progress of inorganic chemistry. Moissan was elected a member of the Academy of Sciences in 1891, and, after teaching in the École supérieure de Pharmacie, became professor of inorganic chemistry at the Sorbonne in 1900.



The portrait group of Drs. Halstead, Kelly, Osier and Welch of the medical department of the Johns Hopkins University, painted by Mr. John S. Sargent, and here reproduced, has now been brought to the country and formally presented to the university by Miss Garrett. The painting is highly esteemed as a work of art, the critic of the London Times holding that it will do more to perpetuate the names of the subjects than their scientific achievements. However this may be, the work of these men and their associates, whether recognized or not, is and will remain an important part of the foundation of higher education in the United States.

When the Johns Hopkins University was opened in 1876, it set new standards of university work. For the first time in this country graduate work, research and publication were given their proper place. The men who taught and advanced knowledge and the men who advanced knowledge as they learned were the university rather than the buildings and equipment. The establishment of the medical department in 1893 did for medical education and for professional education what the university had done earlier for graduate work. Here for the first time to the fullest degree were united broad culture, expert training and research work. In some ways the achievement of the medical department has been even more notable than the earlier performance of the graduate department. In 1876 the time was ripe for a university, and a considerable endowment was available at Baltimore free from conditions. In 1893 a broadening of the medical curriculum was evidently needed, but the Johns Hopkins had less means than the other institutions. It accomplished what it did by bringing together a group of men notable for

PSM V70 D482 Portrait group of Johns Hopkins medical school professors.png

Portrait Group of Drs. Halstead, Kelly, Osler and Welch, of the Medical Department of the Johns Hopkins University.

broad culture, professional skill and scientific research, and their spirit and example has made the medical department of the Johns Hopkins University a model of what a medical school should be.



Dr. George Otis Smith has been appointed director of the U. S. Geological Survey to fill the vacancy caused by the election of Dr. Charles D. Walcott to the secretaryship of the Smithsonian Institution. Dr. Smith received the bachelor of arts degree from Colby College in 1893, and the doctorate of philosophy from the Johns Hopkins University in 1896, in which year he was appointed assistant geologist to the Geological Survey, being made geologist in 1901. He has had charge of the geological work in New England and of work in petrology.

The work of the survey has developed with remarkable rapidity under the direction of Dr. Walcott, the appropriation for the current year being in the neighborhood of a million and a half dollars, and the directorship of the survey having become one of the most important and influential

PSM V70 D483 Charles D Walcott.png

secretary of the smithsonian institution

scientific offices in the country. On March 13, the retiring director was entertained at a banquet by his colleagues, which was attended by some two hundred and fifty members of the survey, and their guests. Colonel H. C. Rizer, chief clerk, presided, and addresses were made by representatives of the different departments of work: Mr. Bailey Willis spoke for the geologic branch, Mr. W. M. Beaman for the topographic branch, Mr. M. O. Leighton for the water resources branch, Mr. S. J. Kübel for the division of engraving, and Mr. F. H. Newell for the reclamation service. Dr. Charles B. Dudley spoke of the fuel-testing work of the Geological Survey. A letter from Mr. Arnold Hague was read, as also a telegram from Mr. Henry Gannett. Mr. Gifford Pinchot paid a tribute to Mr. Walcott in relation to the forestry work of the government. The closing address was by the Hon. James R. Garfield, secretary of the interior.



We regret to record the deaths of Professor W. H. Bakhus-Rooseboom, professor of physical chemistry at Amsterdam; of M. Marcel Bertrand, professor of geology in the Paris School of Mines, and of Professor Ernst von Bergmann, the distinguished German surgeon.

Lord Lister celebrated his eightieth birthday on April 4, on which occasion it was announced that a collected edition of his scientific papers would be published.—The London Society of Dyes and Colors has founded in honor of Sir William Perkin a Perkin medal to be conferred for scientific and industrial work connected with the dyeing industries.—Professor George T. Ladd, who recently retired from the active duties of the chair of philosophy at Yale University, has gone from Japan to Korea, at the invitation of Marquis Ito, in the interest of the educational development of the country.—The Prussian ministry of education has appointed Professor Felix Adler as Theodore Roosevelt professor in the University of Berlin for the year 1908-09, upon the nomination of the trustees of Columbia University, where he holds the chair of political and social ethics.

The new buildings of the Carnegie Institute at Pittsburg were dedicated with imposing ceremonies on April 11, in the presence of a large number of invited guests from Europe and the United States. The ceremonies were extended through three days. Previous to the dedication it was announced that Mr. Carnegie had given $6,000,000—four million to be added to its endowment and two million for the Technical Schools, half for further buildings and half for endowment.

At the meeting of the Association of American Agricultural Colleges and Experiment Stations at Baton Rouge last November a resolution was adopted instructing the incoming president of the association to appoint a commission of five persons to inquire into and report to the association on the organization and policy that should prevail in the expenditure of public money provided for experimentation and research in agriculture. The president of the association, Dean L. H. Bailey, of Cornell University, has appointed the following commission, the first two representing persons outside agricultural investigations, the second two representing the association, and the last representing the Department of Agriculture: David Starr Jordan, president of Leland Stanford University, chairman; Carroll D. Wright, president of Clark College; H. P. Armsby, director of the Pennsylvania State College Agricultural Experiment Station; W. H. Jordan, director of the New York State Experiment Station; Gifford Pinchot, forester, U. S. Department of Agriculture.