Popular Science Monthly/Volume 81/October 1912/The Progress of Science
The new Allegheny Observatory in Riverview Park, Pittsburgh, was dedicated on the afternoon of August 28, in the presence of the members of the Astronomical and Astrophysical Society of America and of many of the Pittsburgh friends of the institution. The new building and its contents have cost about $300,000, the equipment being in quite the first rank. The new site is higher than the old and is farther removed from the city. As the observatory now stands in a large park, it will probably be free from serious encroachments in the future.
The Allegheny Observatory dates back to 1859, in which year a number of citizens of Pittsburgh and Allegheny organized the "Allegheny Telescope Association" and purchased a 13-inch refracting telescope. Although this telescope was then the third largest in the world, the sole purpose of its owners was "star-gazing," and no attempt was made to use the telescope otherwise until 1867. In that year, chiefly through the efforts of William Thaw, the observatory became the astronomical department of the Western University of Pennsylvania, now the University of Pittsburgh. In the same year the trustees secured the services of Samuel Pierpont Langley as director, who at once set on foot the series of solar investigations that soon gave the observatory and its director an international reputation. In the course of this work Langley invented the bolometer and succeeded in mapping the solar spectrum far into the infra-red. It was at Allegheny, too, that he began his researches on
mechanical flight, now recognized as having formed the basis for present day success in this field.
After Langley had been called to the secretaryship of the Smithsonian Institution at Washington, he was succeeded at Allegheny by his former assistant, James Edward Keeler. His short directorship was marked by the brilliant proof of the meteoric composition of Saturn's rings, one of the best planned and most striking observations of modern astronomy. Keeler persistently urged the necessity of removing the observatory from its original site, upon which the rapidly growing city had by this time seriously encroached. Steps to bring about this removal were under way, but they were temporarily halted in 1898, when Keeler was called to the directorship of the Lick Observatory. But shortly afterwards these efforts were vigorously renewed by Dr. John A. Brashear, who lias been chairman of the observatory committee since 1894. The new observatory as it stands to-day is in large measure a tribute to the respect and affection in which Dr. Brashear is held by the people of Pittsburgh.The plans for the new observatory and its equipment are due to Keeler's immediate successor, Professor F. L. O. Wadsworth. and to the present director, Dr. Frank Schlesinger. The principal instruments are the old 13 inch refracting telescope, a 30-inch reflecting telescope (a memorial to Keeler), and a 30-inch refracting telescope (a memorial to William Thaw and his son. William Thaw, Jr.). The last of these telescopes is not quite complete, as the objective remains to be supplied.
INTERNATIONAL SCIENTIFIC CONGRESSES MEETING IN AMERICA
The progress of international cooperation in scientific work is exhibited by the large and growing number of congresses holding migratory meetings in different countries, and the greater share taken by America in the advancement of science is born witness to by the fact that these congresses meet with increasing frequency in the United States. The Eighth International Congress of Applied Chemistry has just closed its meeting in Washington and New York, and the Fifteenth International Congress of Hygiene and Demography will be meeting in Washington when this issue of the Monthly appears. These are among the most important of such gatherings. Chemistry is the science which, owing to its industrial applications, attracts the largest number of workers, and hygiene and demography occupy an equally important place in our modern civilization.
There were enrolled about 4,500 members for the Congress of Applied Chemistry, of whom 2,173, coming from thirty different countries, were in attendance. They presented 724 papers before the twenty-four sections and the joint sessions of these sections. 570 of the papers were printed in advance in 24 volumes and were distributed to members at the time of the meeting. After preliminary meeting and entertainments in New York City, the congress went to Washington by special train, where the members were received by the president of the United States, who acted as patron of the congress. After the return to New York, the sectional meetings were organized and there were many public lectures, receptions, dinners and excursions. The public lectures included the following: M. Gabriel Bertrand, on "Chemical biology"; Dr. Samuel Eyde, on "The oxidation of atmospheric nitrogen, and the resulting industries in Norway"; Dr. Carl Duisberg, on "The synthetic production of rubber"; Dr. Giacomo Ciamician, on "The photo-chemistry of the future"; Professor William Henry Perkin, on "The permanent fireproofing of cotton goods," which is printed in this issue of the Monthly. The entertainments included receptions at the American Museum of Natural History, the Metropolitan Museum and the Chemists' Club; afternoon teas at Columbia University and the College of the City of New York; an excursion up the Hudson, and a grand banquet at the Waldorf-Astoria. At the conclusion of the meeting excursions were arranged to Chicago and to the Pacific coast. Dr. Edward W. Morley was honorary president of the congress and Dr. Wm. H. Nichols was the active president, to whom with the other officers the successful organization and conduct of the congress was in large measure due. The ninth congress will be held three years hence at St. Petersburg under the presidency of Professor Paul T. Walden.The Fifteenth International Congress of Hygiene and Demography, under the presidency of Dr. Henry P. Walcott, of Massachusetts, will undoubtedly be equally notable. An important and interesting scientific program and exhibit have been arranged. Some 300 German physicians have already arrived in New York to attend the meetings. Mention should also be made of the International Otological Congress at Boston under the presidency of Dr. Clarence J. Blake, which though smaller and attracting less attention, has brought to this country a number of distinguished foreign otologists. Two further gatherings of foreign scientific men in this country deserve mention—the transcontinental excursion of the American Geographical Society and the dedication of the Rice Institute. The former is quite unique in character. The American Geographical Society, to celebrate the
sixtieth anniversary of its foundation and the completion of its new building, planned a transcontinental excursion under the conduct of Professor William M. Davis, of Harvard University, to which the leading geographical societies of Europe were invited to appoint delegates as guests. There were about forty acceptances, including many of the leading geographers of the world, who with their American colleagues are at present engaged in an excursion across the continent lasting about two months. An international character has been given to the inauguration of the Rice Institute at Houston, Texas, by inviting twelve distinguished foreign scientific men and scholars to prepare each three lectures for the proceedings of the opening festival, to be published in a series of volumes which will be issued in commemoration of the occasion. Among the lecturers-who will be present are Professor Emil Borel, of Paris; Professor Hugo de Vries, of Amsterdam; Professor Wilhem Ostwald, lately of Leipzig; Sir William Ramsay, of London, and Professor Vito Volterra, of Rome.
While a larger group of foreign scientific men are in this country than ever before, a considerable number of American scientific men have attended three international congresses held in England—the First International Congress of Eugenics, to which reference has already been made m this journal; the International Congress of Entomology at Oxford, and the. International Congress of Mathematicians at Cambridge. The meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science at Dundee has also assumed international proportions, in view of the large number of foreign men of science in attendance.
THE ADDRESS OF THE PRESIDENT OF THE BRITISH ASSOCIATION
The presidential address before the British Association for the Advancement of Science given by Professor E. A. Schäfer, of the University of Edinburgh, at Dundee, on September 4 has attracted much attention in view of the popular interest in questions concerned with the nature, origin and maintenance of life. While the address does not contain new facts or theories, it is a clear and excellent statement of the chemico-mechanical explanation of life. The entire address was published in the issue of Science for September 6. We may quote several paragraphs, which are characteristic of the line of argument:
"It is not so long ago that the chemistry of organic matter was thought to be entirely different from that of inorganic substances. But the line between inorganic and organic chemistry, which up to the middle of the last century appeared sharp, subsequently became misty and has now disappeared. Similarly the chemistry of living organisms, which is now a recognized branch of organic chemistry, but used to be considered as so much outside the domain of the chemist that it could only be dealt with by those whose special business it was to study 'vital' processes, is passing every day more out of the hands of the biologist and into those of the pure chemist.
"Somewhat more than half a century ago Thomas Graham published his epoch-making observations relating to the properties of matter in the colloidal state: observations which are proving all-important in assisting our comprehension of the properties of living substance. For it is becoming every day more apparent that the chemistry and physics of the living organism are essentially the chemistry and physics of nitrogenous colloids. Living substance or protoplasm always, in fact, takes the form of a colloidal solution. In this solution the colloids are associated with crystalloids (electrolytes), which are either free in the solution or attached to the molecules of the colloids. Surrounding and enclosing the living substance thus constituted of both colloid and crystalloid material is a film, probably also formed of colloid, but which may have a lipoid substratum associated with it (Overton). This film serves the purpose of an osmotic membrane, permitting of exchanges by diffusion between the colloidal solution constituting the protoplasm and the circumambient medium in which it lives. Other similar films or membranes occur in the interior of protoplasm. These films have in many cases specific characters, both physical and chemical, thus favoring the diffusion of special kinds of material into and out of the protoplasm and from one part of the protoplasm to another. It is the changes produced under these physical conditions associated with those caused by active chemical agents formed within protoplasm and known as enzymes, that effect assimilation and disassimilation. Quite similar changes can be produced outside the body (in vitro) by the employment of methods of a purely physical and chemical nature. It is true that we are not yet familiar with all the intermediate stages of transformation of the materials which are taken in by a living body into the materials which are given out from it. But since the initial processes and the final results are the same as they would be on the assumption that the changes are brought about in conformity with the known laws of chemistry and physics, we may fairly conclude that all changes in living substance are brought about by ordinary chemical and physical forces.
"Should it be contended that growth and reproduction are properties possessed only by living bodies and constitute a test by which we may differentiate between life and non-life, between the animate and inanimate creation, it must be replied that no contention can be more fallacious. Inorganic crystals grow and multiply and reproduce their like, given a supply of the requisite pabulum. In most cases for each kind of crystal there is, as with living organisms, a limit of growth which is not exceeded, and further increase of the crystalline matter results not in further increase in size but in multiplication of similar crystals. Leduc has shown that the growth and division of artificial colloids of an inorganic nature, when placed in an appropriate medium, present singular resemblances to the phenomena of the growth and division of living organisms. Even so complex a process as | the division of a cell-nucleus by karyokinesis as a preliminary to the multiplication of the cell by division—a phenomenon which would primâ facie have seemed and has been commonly regarded as a distinctive manifestation of the life of the cell—can be imitated with solutions of a simple inorganic salt, such as chloride of sodium, containing a suspension of carbon particles; which arrange and rearrange themselves under the influence of the movements of the electrolytes in a manner indistinguishable from that adopted by the particles of chromatin in a dividing nucleus. And in the process of sexual reproduction, the researches of J. Loeb and others upon the ova of the sea-urchin have proved that we can no longer consider such an apparently vital phenomenon as the fertilization of the egg as being the result of living material brought to it by the spermatozoon, since it is possible to start the process of division of the ovum and the resulting formation of cells, and ultimately of all the tissues and organs—in short, to bring about the development of the whole body—if a simple chemical reagent is substituted for the male element in the process of fertilization. Indeed, even a mechanical or electrical stimulus may suffice to start development. Kurz und gut, as the Germans say, vitalism as a working hypothesis has not only had its foundations undermined, but most of the superstructure has toppled over, and if any difficulties of explanation still persist, we are justified in assuming that the cause is to be found in our imperfect knowledge of the constitution and working of living material. At the best vitalism explains nothing, and the term 'vital force' is an expression of ignorance which can bring us no further along the path of knowledge. Nor is the problem in any way advanced by substituting for the term 'vitalism' 'neo-vitalism,' and for 'vital force' 'biotic energy.' 'New presbyter is but old priest writ large. '
We record with regret the deaths of Dr. W J McGee, known for his contributions to geology, anthropology and the conservation of natural resources; of Dr. T. B. McClintic, of the United States Public Health Service, who died of Rocky Mountain spotted fever, contracted while investigating the disease in Montana; of Dr. Humphrey Owen Jones, F.R.S., the English chemist, who with his wife was killed while ascending the Aiguille Rouge de Pentéret, in the Alps; of Mr. Robert Holford Macdowall Bosanquet, F.R.S., known for his researches in acoustics and magnetism, and of M. Lucien Lévy, the distinguished French mathematician.
Dr. Wilhelm Wundt, professor of philosophy in the University of Leipzig, one of the founders of modern psychology, celebrated his eightieth birthday on August 16, on which occasion a "Wilhelm Wundt Stiftung," amounting to 7,000 Marks, was presented to the university by his students and friends.—In connection with the visit to Dundee of the British Association for the Advancement of Science, the senate of the University of St. Andrews has conferred the degree of LL.D., on sixteen foreign men of science who attended the meetings of the association. As a recognition of the president of the association, Professor E. A. Schäfer, of Edinburgh University, they are largely physiologists. The United States is represented by Dr. S. J. Meltzer, of the Rockefeller Institute of Medical Research.
The movement for the enlargement of the health activities of the United States government has resulted in the passage of a law which enlarges the functions of the Public Health and Marine-Hospital Service and changes the name to the "United States Public Health Service." Under this law the new Public Health Service is given very wide authority to investigate the "diseases of man and conditions influencing the propagation and spread thereof, including sanitation."