See Inside September 2010

100 Years Ago: Sleeping Sickness

Innovation and discovery as chronicled in past issues of Scientific American

EVOLUTION OF MAN— “Mutation, sexual recombination and natural selection led to the emergence of Homo sapiens. The creatures that preceded him had already developed the rudiments of tool-using, toolmaking and cultural transmission. But the next evolutionary step was so great as to constitute a difference in kind from those before it. There now appeared an organism whose mastery of technology and of symbolic communication enabled it to create a supraorganic culture. Other organisms adapt to their environments by changing their genes in accordance with the demands of the surroundings. Man and man alone can also adapt by changing his environments to fit his genes. His genes enable him to invent new tools, to alter his opinions, his aims and his conduct, to acquire new knowledge and new wisdom. —Theo­do­s­ius Dobzhansky”

SLEEPING SICKNESS—  “­Prior to the nineties, sleep­ing sickness was unknown in Uganda and its introduction is attributed to the entry of Emin Pasha [Eduard Schnitzer] and his 10,000 followers who were brought from the edge of the Congo territory, the center of the disease. The point arose as to how the parasite was distributed. It was known that the tsetse fly was responsible for the terrible rinderpest among cattle in south Africa, and a biting insect which thrives in great numbers on the shores of the lake was suspected. This is a member of the tsetse species, and is known as Glossina palpalis, recognized by the native authorities as the kivu. A map of where tsetse flies were collected was compared with another on which the area of the sleeping sickness was indicated: the territories coincided.”

FOUNTAIN— “A sanitary drinking fountain for use in schools and other public places has been invented. As shown in the illustration, a series of tubes, which may be bent to any ornamental design, are trained to deliver the water to a common center. The impact of the water at this central point produces a geyser-like jet over which the drinker can apply his mouth, while unused water falls to the base of the fountain.”

POISON FISHING— “A paper has just been published (in England) on the capture of whales by the means of poison, the agent being hydro-­cyanic or prussic acid. The subtle poison was contained in glass tubes, in quantity about two ounces, secured to a harpoon. Messrs. W. and G. Young sent a quantity of these harpoons to one of their ships engaged in the Greenland fishery, and on meeting with a fine whale the har­poon was skillfully and deeply buried in his body; the leviathan immediately ‘sounded,’ or dived perpendicularly downwards, but in a very short time the rope relaxed, and the whale rose to the surface quite dead. The men were so appalled by the terrific effect of the poisoned harpoon that they declined to use any more of them.”

INTERNAL COMBUSTION— “A Parisian, by the name of Étienne Lenoir, is creating a sensation among his countrymen by the exhibition of a caloric engine. Lenoir’s little shop, in a bye street, is every day besieged by a crowd of curious people from all classes—the Imperial downwards. According to Cosmos, and other French papers, the age of steam is ended—Watt and Fulton will soon be forgotten. This is the way they do such things in France. Lenoir’s engine is an explosion engine, in which air, mixed with hydrogen or illuminating gas, is exploded in the cylinder by an electric spark; the piston is thus shot forward and back. The practical objections to such motors are the jerks of its action and the accumulation of heat. Gas, although much dearer (as fuel) than coal, is so cleanly and manageable, that it will some day come into use for the multitude of small engines which will be found useful for driving sewing and other light machines.”

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