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A WEEKLY NEWSPAPER OF ALL 86
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SCIENCE. Albert B. Prescott......
THE IMMEDIATE WORK
"SEPTEMBER 2, 1892.
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THE CIVIL AND NATURAL HISTORY ing scientific men and women of America have agreed to contribute to the BY ALPHEUS SPRING PACKARD, M.D., Ph.D. paper during the coming year; and, as others the list of Labrador birds by Mr. L. W. Turner, are constantly jo.ning in this move, to make the paper more valuable than ever, it cannot be long Macoun, of Ottawa, Canada, has prepared the list of before there will be a body of over one thouMuch pains has been taken to render the bibliog sand competent users of this weekly
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THE IMMEDIATE WORK IN CHEMICAL SCIENCE.'
BY ALBERT B. PRESCOTT.
A DIVISION of science has a work of its own to do, a work that well might be done for its own sake, and still more must be done in payment of what is due to the other divisions. Each section of our association has its just task, and fidelity to this is an obligation to all the sections. Those engaged in any labor of science owe a debt to the world at large, and can be called to give an account of what they are doing, and what they have to do, that the truth may be shown on all sides.
If it be in my power to make the annual address of this meeting of any service at all to you who hear it in your loyalty to the association I would bring before you some account of the work that is wanted in the science of chemistry. Of what the chemists have done in the past the arts of industry speak more plainly than the words of any address. Of what chemists may do in the future it would be quite in vain that I should venture to predict. But of the nature of the work that is waiting in the chemical world at the present time I desire to say what I can, and I desire to speak in the interests of science in general. The interests of science, I am well assured, cannot be held indifferent to the interests of the public at large.
The Hidden Composition of Matter.
It is not a small task to find out how the matter of the universe is made. The task is hard, not because of the great quantity in which matter exists, nor by reason of the multiplicity of the kinds and compounds of matter, but rather from the obscurity under which the actual composition of matter is hidden from man. physicists reach a conclusion that matter is an array of molecules, little things, not so large as a millionth of a millimeter in size, and the formation of these they leave to the work of the chemists. The smallest objects dealt with in science, their most distinct activities become known only by the widest exercise of inductive
The New World of Discovery.
The realm of chemical action, the world within the molecules of matter, the abode of the chemical atoms, is indeed a new world and but little known. The speculative atoms of the ancients, mere mechanical divisions, prefiguring the molecules of modern science, yet gave no sign of the chemical atoms of this century, nor any account of what happens in a chemical change. A new field of knowledge was opened in 1774 by the discovery of oxygen, and entered upon in 1804 by the publications of Dalton, a region more remote and more difficult of access than was the unknown continent toward which Christopher Columbus set his sails three centuries earlier. The world within molecules has been open for only a hundred years. The sixteenth century was not long enough for an exploration of the continent of America, and the nineteenth has not been long enough for the undertaking of the chemists. When four centuries of search shall have been made in the world of chemical formation, then science should be ready to meet a congress of nations, to rejoice with the chemist upon the issue of his task.
It is well known that chemical labor has not been barren of returns. The products of chemical action, numbering thousands of thousands, have been sifted and measured and weighed. If you ask what happens in a common chemical change you can obtain 1 Address of the retiring president of the American Association at Rochester, August, 1892.
direct answers. When coal burns in the air, how much oxygen is used up can be stated with a degree of exactness true to the first decimal of mass, perhaps to the second, yet questionable in the third. How much carbonic acid is made can be told in weight and in volume with approaching exactness. How much heat this chemical action is worth, how much light, how much electromotive force, what train-load of cars it can carry, how long it can make certain wheels go round,- for these questions chemists and physicists are ready. With how many metals carbonic acid will unite, how many ethers it can make into carbonates, into what classes of molecules a certain larger fragment of carbonic acid can be formed, -the incomplete records of these things already run through a great many volumes. These carboxylic bodies are open to productive studies, stimulated by various sorts of inquiry and demands of life. Such have been the gatherings of research. They have been slowly drawn into order, more slowly interpreted in meaning. The advance has been constant, deliberate, sometimes in doubt, always persisting and gradually gaining firmer ground. So chemistry has reached the period of definition. Its guiding theory has come to be realized.
The Central Truth of this Science.
"The atomic theory" has more and more plainly appeared to be the central and vital truth of chemical science. As a working hypothesis it has directed abstruse research through difficult ways to open accomplishment in vivid reality. As a system of knowledge, it has more than kept pace with the rate of invention. As a pholosophy, it is in touch with profound truth in physics, in the mineral kingdom, and in the functions of living bodies. As a language, it has been a necessity of man in dealing with chemical events. Something might have been done, no doubt, without it, had it been possible to keep it out of the chemical mind. But with a knowledge of the primary elements of matter, as held at the beginning of this century, some theory of chemical atoms was inevitable. And whatever theory might have been adopted, its use in investigation would have drawn it with a certainty into the essential features of the theory now established. It states the constitution of matter in terms that stand for things as they are made. The mathematician may choose the ratio of numerical notation, whether the ratio of ten or some other. But the chemist must find existing ratios of atomic and molecular mass, with such degree of exactness as he can attain. Chemical notation, the index of the atomic system, is imperfect, as science is incomplete. However defective, it is the resultant of a multitude of facts. The atomic theory has come to be more than facile language, more than lucid classification, more than working hypothesis, it is the definition of the known truth in the existence of matter.
The chemical atom is known, however, for what it does, rather than for what it is. It is known as a centre of action, a factor of influence, an agent of power. It is identified by its responses, and measured by its energies. Concealed as it is, each atom has given proof of its own part in the structure of a molecule. Proofs of position, not in space but in action, as related to other atoms, have been obtained by a multitude of workers with the greatest advantage. The arrangement of the atoms in space, however, is another and later question, not involved in the general studies of structure. But even this question has arisen upon its own chemical evidences for certain bodies, so that "the configuration" of the molecule has become an object of active research.
Known for what it does, the atom is not clearly known for what it is. Chemists, at any rate, are concerned mainly with what can be made out of atoms, not with what atoms can be made of. Whatever they are, and by whatever force of motion it is that they unite with each other, we define them by their effects. Through their effects they are classified in the rank and file of the periodic
system. The physicists, however, do not stop short of the philosophical study of the atom itself. As a vibratory body its movements have been under mathematical calculations; as a vortex ring its pulsations have been assumed to agree with its combining power. As an operating magnet its interaction with other like magnets has been predicated as the method of valence. There are, as I am directly assured, physicists of penetration and prudence now looking with confidence to studies of the magnetic relations of atoms to each other. Moreover, another company of workers, the chemists of geometric isomerism, assume a configuration of the atoms, in accord with that of the molecule.
Hypotheses to be Held Apart.
The stimulating truth of the atomic constitution of the molecule, a great truth in elastic touch with all science, excites numerous hypotheses, which, however profitable they may be, are to be stoutly held at a distance from the truth itself. Such are the hypotheses of molecular aggregation into crystals and other mineral forms. Such are the biological theories of molecules polymerizing into cells, and of vitality as a chemical property of the molecule. Such are the questions of the nature of atoms, and the genesis of the elements as they are now known,- questions on the border of metaphysics. Let all these be held distinct from the primary law of the atomic constitution of simple molecules in gaseous bodies, an essential principle in an exact science. The chemist should have the comfortable assurance, every day, as he plies his balance of precision, that the atom-made molecules are there, in their several ratios of quantity, however many unsettled questions may lie around about them. Knowledge of molecular structure makes chemistry a science, nourishing to the reason, giving dominion over matter, for beneficence to life.
Men Who Make Science.
Every chemical pursuit receives strength from every advance in the knowledge of the molecule. And to this knowledge, none the less, every chemical pursuit contributes. The analysis of a mineral, whether done for economic ends or not, may furnish a distinct contribution toward atomic valence. The further examination of steel in the cables of a suspension bridge is liable to lead to unexpected evidence upon polymeric unions. Rothamsted Farm, where ten years is not a long time for the holding of an experiment, yields to us a classic history of the behavior of nitrogen, a history from which we correct our theories. The analysis of butter for its substitutes has done something to set us right upon the structure of the glycerides. Clinical inspection of the functions of the living body fain finds a record of molecular transformations too difficult for the laboratory. The efforts of pharmaceutical manufacture stimulate new orders of chemical combination. The revision of the pharmacopoeia every ten years points out a humiliating number of scattered errors in the published constants on which science depends. The duty of the engineer, in his scrutiny of the quality of lubricating oils, brings a more critical inquiry into the laws of molecular movement. There is not time to mention the many professions and pursuits of men who contribute toward the principles of chemistry and hold a share therein. If it be the part of pure science to find the law of action in nature, it is the part of applied science both to contribute facts and to put theory to the larger proof. In the words of one who has placed industry in the greatest of its debts to philosophic research, W. H. Perkin, “There is no chasm between pure and applied science, they do not even stand side by side, but are linked together." So in all branches of chemistry, whether it be termed applied or not, the best workers are the most strongly bound as one, in their dependance upon what is known of the structure of the molecule.
Waiting for Workers.
Studies of structure were never before so inviting. In this direction, and in that, especial opportunities appear. Moreover, the actual worker here and there breaks into unexpected paths of
"The results of molecular physics point unmistakably to the atom as a magnet, in its chemical activities."-A. E. Dolbear, in a personal communication.
promise. Certainly the sugar group is presenting to the chemist an open way from simple alcohols on through to the cell substances of the vegetable world. And nothing anywhere could be more suggestive than the extremely simple unions of nitrogen lately discovered. They are likely to elucidate linkings of this element in great classes of carbon compounds, all significant in general chemistry. Then certain comparative studies have new attractions. As halogens have been upon trial side by side with each other, so, for instance, silicon must be put through its paces with carbon, and phosphorus with nitrogen. Presently, also, the limits of molecular mass, in polymers and in unions with water, are to be nearer approached from the chemical side, as well as from the side of physics, in that attractive but perplexing borderground between affinity and the states of aggregation.
And all for Mankind.
Such is the extent and such the diversity of chemical labor at present that every man must put limits to the range of his study. The members of a society or section of chemistry, coming together to hear each other's researches, are better able, for the most part, to listen for instruction than for criticism. Still less prepared for hasty judgment are those who do not come together in societies at all. Even men of eminent learning must omit large parts of the subject, if it be permitted to speak of chemistry as a single subject. These considerations admonish us to be liberal. When metallurgical chemistry cultivates skepticisin as to the work upon atomic closed chains, it is a culture not the most liberal. When a devotee of organic synthesis puts a low value upon analytic work, he takes a very narrow view of chemical studies. When the chemist who is in educational service disparages investigations done in industrial service, he exercises a pitiful brevity of wisdom.
The pride of pure science is justified in this, that its truth is for the nurture of man. And the ambition of industrial art is honored in this, its skill gives strength to man. It is the obligation of science to bring the resources of the earth, its vegetation and its animal life, into the full service of man, making the knowledge of creation a rich portion of his inheritance, in mind and estate, in reason and in conduct, for life present and life to To know creation is to be taught of God.
The Means of Unification.
I have spoken of the century of beginning chemical labor, and have referred to the divisions and specialties of chemical study. What can I say of the means of uniting the earlier and later years of the past, as well as the separated pursuits of the present, in one mobile working force? Societies of science are among these means, and it becomes us to magnify their office. For them, however, all that we can do is worth more than all we can say. And there are other means, even more effective than associations. Most necessary of all the means of unification in science is the use of its literature.
It is by published communications that the worker is enabled to begin, not where the first investigation began, but where the last one left off. The enthusiast who lacks the patience to consult books, presuming to start anew all by himself in science, has need to get on faster than Antoine L. Lavoisier did when he began, an associate of the French Academy in 1768. He of immortal memory, after fifteen eventful years of momentous labor, reached only such a combustion of hydrogen as makes a very simple classexperiment at present. But, however early in chemical discovery, Lavoisier availed himself of contemporaries. They found oxygen, he learned oxidation: one great man was not enough, in 1774, both to reveal this element and show what part it takes in the formation of matter. The honor of Lavoisier is by no means the less that he used the results of others, it might have been the more had he given their results a more explicit mention. Men of the largest original power make the most of the results of other men. Discoverers do not neglect previous achievement, however it may appear in biography. The masters of science are under the limitations of their age. Had Joseph Priestley lived in the seventeenth century he had not discovered oxygen. Had August Kekulé worked in the period of Berzelius, some other
man would have set forth the closed chain of carbon combination, and Kekulé, we may be sure, would have done something else to clarify chemistry. Such being the limitations of the masters, what contributions can be expected in this age from a worker who is without the literature of his subject?
The Cure for the Crank.
In many a town some solitary thinker is toiling intensely over some self-imposed problem, devoting to it such sincerity and strength as should be of real service, while still he obtains no recognition. Working without books, unaware of memoirs on the theme he loves, he tries the task of many with the strength of one. Such as he sometimes send communications to this association. An earnest worker, his utter isolation is quite enough to convert him into a crank. To every solitary investigator I should desire to say, get to a library of your subject, learn how to use its literature, and possess yourself of what there is on the theme of your choice, or else determine to give it up altogether. You may get on very well without college laboratories, you can survive it if unable to reach the meetings of men of learning, you can do without the counsel of an authority, but you can hardly be a contributor in science except you gain the use of its literature.
The Want of Original Memoirs.
First in importance to the investigator are the original memoirs of previous investigators. The chemical determinations of the century have been reported by their authors in the periodicals. The serials of the years, the continuous living repositories of all chemistry, at once the oldest and the latest of its publications, these must be accessible to the worker who would add to this science. A library for research is voluminous, and portions of it are said to be scarce, nevertheless it ought to be largely supplied. The laboratory itself is not more important than the library of science. In the public libraries of our cities, in all colleges now being established, the original literature of science ought to be planted. It is a wholesome literature, at once a stimulant and a corrective of that impulse to discovery that is frequent among the people of this country. That a good deal of it is in foreign languages is hardly a disadvantage; there ought to be some exercise for the modern tongues that even the public high schools are teaching. That the sets of standard journals are getting out of print is a somewhat infirm objection. They have no right to be out of print in these days when they give us twenty pages of blanket newspaper at breakfast, and offer us Scott's novels in full for less than the cost of a day's entertainment. As for the limited editions of the old sets, until reproduced by new types, they may be multiplied through photographic methods. When there is a due demand for the original literature of chemistry, a demand in accord with the prospective need for its use, the supply will come, let us believe, more nearly within the means of those who require it than it now does.
The Indexing of the Literature.
What I have said of the literature of one science can be said, in the main, of the literature of other sciences. And other things ought to be said of what is wanted to make the literature of science more accessible to consulting readers. A great deal of indexing is wanted. Systematic bibliography, both of previous and of current literature, would add a third to the productive power of a large number of workers. It would promote common acquaintance with the original communications of research, and a general demand for the serial sets. Topical bibliographies are of great service. In this regard I desire to ask attention to the annual reports, in this association for nine years past, of the committee on Indexing Chemical Literature, as well as to recent systematic undertakings in geology, and like movements in zoology and other sciences, also to the Index Medicus, as a continuous bibliography of current professional literature.
Societies and institutions of science may well act as patrons to the bibliography of research, the importance of which has been recognized by the fathers of this association. In 1855, Joseph Henry, then a past-president of this body, memorialized the British association for co-operation in bibliography, offering that
aid of the Smithsonian Institution which has so often been afforded to publications of special service. The British association appointed a committee, who reported in 1857, after which the undertaking was proposed to the Royal Society. The Royal Society made an appeal to her Majesty's government, and obtained the necessary stipend. Such was the inception of the Royal Society Catalogue of scientific papers of this century, in eight quarto volumes, as issued in 1867 and 1877. Seriously curtailed from the generous plan of the committee who proposed it, limited to the single feature of an index of authors, it is nevertheless of great help in literary search. Before any list of papers, however, we must place a list of the serials that contain them, as registered by an active member of this association, an instance of industry and critical judgment. I refer to the well-known catalogue of scientific and technical periodicals, of about five thousand numbers, in publication from 1665 to 1882, together with the catalogue of chemical periodicals by the same author.1
Compilations of Science.
Allied to the much-needed service in bibliography, is the service in compilation of the Constants of Nature. In the preface of his dictionary of solubilities, in 1856, Professor Storer said, "that chemical science itself might gain many advantages if all known facts regarding solubility were gathered from their widelyscattered original sources into one special comprehensive work." That the time for the philosophical study of solution was near at hand has been verified by recent extended monographs on this subject. In like manner, Thomas Carnelley in England, and early and repeatedly our own Professor Clarke in the United States," bringing multitudes of scattered results into co-ordination, have augmented the powers of chemical service.
What bibliography does for research, the Hand wörterbuch does for education, and for technology. It makes science wieldy to the student, the teacher, and the artisan. The chief dictionaries of science, those of encyclopedic scope, ought to be provided generally in public libraries, as well as in the libraries of all high schools. The science classes in preparatory schools should make acquaintance with scientific literature in this form. If scholars be assigned exercises which compel reference reading, they will gain a beginning of that accomplishment too often neglected, even in college, how to use books.
The Laboratory Method.
The library is a necessity of the laboratory. Indeed, there is much in common between what is called the laboratory method, and what might be called the library method, in college training. The educational laboratory was instituted by chemistry, first taking form under Liebig at Giessen only about fifty years ago. Experimental study has been adopted in one subject after another, until now the "laboratory method" is advocated in language and literature, in philosophy and law. It is to be hoped that chemistry will not fall behind in the later applications of "the new education" in which she took so early a part.
Urgency of the Chemical Task.
The advancement of chemical science is not confined to discovery, nor to education, nor to economic use. All of those interests it should embrace. To disparage one of them is injurious to the others. Indeed, they ought to have equal support. It
1 Bolton's Catalogue of Scientific and Technical Periodicals (1885: Smithsonian) omits the serials of the societies, as these are the subject of Scudder's Catalogue of Scientific Serials (1879: Harvard Univ.). On the contrary, Bolton's Catalogue of Chemical Periodicals (1885: N. Y. Acad. Sci.) includes the publications of societies as well as other serials. Chemical technology is also represented in the last-named work.
2 The service of compilation of this character is again indicated by this extract from Clarke's introduction to the first edition of his "Constants" (1873): "While engaged upon the study of some interesting points in theoretical chemistry, the compiler of the following tables had occasion to make frequent reference to the then existing lists of specific gravities. None of these, however, were complete enough. . . ."
3 The statistics of school libraries in the United States are very meagre, the expenditures for them being included with that for apparatus. For lioraries and apparatus of all common schools, both primary and secondary, the annual expenditure is set at $987,048, which is about seven-tenths of one per cent of the total expenditure for these schools.