Popular Science Monthly/Volume 8/February 1876/Sketch of Thomas Sterry Hunt, LL.D., F.R.S.
|SKETCH OF THOMAS STERRY HUNT, LL. D., F. R. S.|
THE subject of the present notice, of whom an excellent portrait appears in this number, although still in middle life, has made extensive contributions to American science during the past generation, and has permanently identified his name with its progress and development. Choosing two of the most rapidly-advancing sciences, chemistry and geology, as his field of work, and studying them especially in their intimate and extensive interactions, he has had a large and honorable share in giving form to our present knowledge upon these subjects. Although an indefatigable experimenter and an extensive observer. Dr. Hunt is also eminently an original and philosophic thinker, and has taken an influential part in the establishment of the most matured scientific theories. He was early in the field of chemical speculation, and aided essentially in that revolution of views which has ended in the establishment of the "new chemistry."
Thomas Sterry Hunt was born on the 5th of September, 1826, in Norwich, Connecticut, where he received his early education. He began the study of medicine, but soon abandoned it for chemistry and mineralogy, and in 1845 became a private student with the present Prof. Benjamin Silliman at New Haven, acting meanwhile as chemical assistant to Prof. B. Silliman, senior, in the chemical laboratory of Yale College. In 1847, while preparing to continue his studies in Great Britain, he was chosen to be chemist and mineralogist to the Geological Survey of Canada, then recently established under the direction of Sir William Logan, and having its headquarters at Montreal. This position he held for twenty-five years, resigning it in 1872. He was, during this time, for several years a professor in the Laval University at Quebec, where he lectured on chemistry and geology in the French language, and was afterward Professor of Chemistry and Mineralogy at McGill University, Montreal. Coming to Boston in 1872 he took the chair of Geology in the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, made vacant by the resignation of Prof. William B. Rogers, a post which he still occupies. He has never married. His earlier scientific labors were chiefly in the domain of chemistry. Prof. B. Silliman, in his "History of American Contributions to Chemistry," which appeared in the "Proceedings of the Centennial of Chemistry" (American Chemist for 1874), says:
"The name of no American chemist occurs more frequently, or in a more important relation to the progress and development of our science during the past quarter of a century, than that of Dr. Hunt. His contributions have been equally valuable in theoretical chemistry, in chemical philosophy, and in geological and mineralogical chemistry. No other author has covered a wider range than he. Not less than one hundred and thirty entries are found under his name in the second and third series of the American Journal of Science, and adding those published in Canada, England, and France, and some memoirs in the proceedings of various American societies, the total roll of his papers amounts to about one hundred and sixty titles."
A considerable proportion of these, however, relate to pure geology.
From the "History" just quoted, and from a biographical notice in The American Cyclopædia, we learn of Dr. Hunt's important contributions to theoretical chemistry, and his attempts to into the sciences of chemistry and mineralogy a new philosophy, some points of which will be found in his address in 1874, at the Centennial of Chemistry at Northumberland, Pennsylvania, entitled "A Century's Progress in Chemical Theory." His papers on these subjects were widely copied and translated, and have greatly influenced modern chemistry. At an early date Dr. Hunt prepared a summary of organic chemistry, which he first defined to be the chemistry of carbon and its compounds, and which forms a part of Silliman's "First Principles of Chemistry" (1872). A statement of some of the aspects of the science will be found in the last annual address before the Massachusetts College of Pharmacy, delivered by him, on "The Relations of Chemistry to Pharmacy and Therapeutics" (Boston, 1875); and we present an abstract of this in the present number. It is said of Dr. Hunt, in the notice above referred to, that his researches on the chemistry of soda and mineral waters have probably been more extended than those of any other living chemist. These have been both synthetic and analytic, and we owe to him elaborate studies of the chemistry of lime and magnesia, undertaken with reference to the origin of the native combinations of these bases. Mention should also be made of his contributions to a chemical cosmogony and to a comprehensive theory of chemical and dynamical geology, a sketch of which will be found in his essay on "The Chemistry of the Earth," in the "Smithsonian Report" for 1869.
Dr. Hunt's numerous contributions to chemistry and geology in their technical applications relating to soils, fertilizers, peat, building-materials, the manufacture of salt, and the ores and metallurgy of iron and copper, will be found in the publications of the Geological Survey of Canada, and in part in the proceedings of the Institute of Mining Engineers. See also his essay on "The Coal and Iron of Southern Ohio" (Salem, 1874). A large part of the reports of the Canada Survey during twenty-five years was contributed by him, and also the latter half of the large volume entitled "Geology of Canada" (1863).
Among Dr. Hunt's later contributions to geology are his studies of "Granites and Granitic Veinstones;" "The Geognosy of the Appalachians and the Origin of Crystalline Rocks" (1871); and the "History of the Names Cambrian and Silurian in Geology" (1872). His views as to the crystalline, stratified rocks, their genesis, their great antiquity as opposed to the notion of their more recent origin, and his grouping and classification of them, undertaken after many years of research and comparison over a wider field than has been studied by any other American geologist, constitute a new departure in the science. They have attracted much attention, and, despite some attacks, are finding a wide recognition, both in this country and in Europe. The three essays just named, together with some others, on various subjects of chemical geology, including mineral waters, dolomites, gypsum, petroleum, and ore-deposits, with many notes and additions, and with selections from his papers on the philosophy of chemistry and mineralogy, have lately been published in a volume entitled "Chemical and Geological Essays" (Boston, 1875). Of this work a notice appeared in The Popular Science Monthly, vol. vi., p. 372. It is understood that he is now preparing a "Handbook of American Geology." During the past summer he has been engaged in the new Geological Survey of Pennsylvania under Prof. Lesley.
Dr. Hunt was President of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in 1870. He is a member of the National Academy of Science, the American Philosophical Society, and the American Academy of Boston. In 1859 he was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of London. He is a member of the Imperial Leopoldo-Carolinian Academy of Germany, and of the Geological Societies of France, Belgium, Austria, Ireland, etc. He was a member of the International Juries at the Great Expositions at Paris in 1855 and 1867, and on the latter occasion was made an officer of the Legion of Honor.