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See Inside February 2008

50, 100 & 150 Years Ago: Gone Fission, Wilbur on Flying and Cold Steam

Articles from past issues of Scientific American

FEBRUARY 1908
SPORTSMAN’S NUMBER— “For this issue of Scientific American, a beautiful colored cover encloses a rare selection of appropriate articles interesting alike to the sportsman and to the general reader [see illustration].”

FLYING AS A SPORT— “Up to the present time men have taken up flying partly from scientific interest, partly from sport, and partly from business reasons, but a time is rapidly approaching when the art will have reached a state of development such that men can practice it without the necessity of maintaining a private laboratory or a manufacturing plant. Considered as a sport, flying possesses attractions which will appeal to many persons with a force beyond that exercised by any of the similar sports, such as boating, cycling, or automobiling. There is a sense of exhilaration in flying through the free air, an intensity of enjoyment. —Wilbur Wright
The entire article from 1908 is available here

A HARD CLIMB— “When Mrs. Fanny Bullock Workman ascended Nun Kun peak of the Himalaya to a height of 23,260 feet above sea level, she made the world’s record for mountain climbing by a woman. This ascent concluded a series of five seasons spent in the great mountain range by Dr. and Mrs. Workman, during which they traveled 1,300 miles along the ‘roof of the world.’ Mrs. Workman states emphatically that mountaineering conditions in Asia are far more arduous than those in Switzerland or the Rockies. Only by spending nights at higher altitudes than Alpinists have ever before rested, did she succeed in her record exploit.”

FEBRUARY 1958
SPLITTING ATOMS— “In January, 1939, we published an account of ‘experiments that are at variance with all previous experiences in nuclear physics.’ In interpreting the experiments we expressed ourselves very cautiously, partly because the series of tests had not yet been quite finished—they took several weeks. But our caution was not due to any mistrust of our results. Indeed, we already had a strong check of our conclusion, for we had identified a decay product of one of our ‘radium’ isotopes as lanthanum, which meant that the parent had to be not radium but barium. Our overcautiousness stemmed primarily from the fact that, as chemists, we hesitated to announce a revolutionary discovery in physics. Nevertheless, we did speak of the ‘bursting’ of uranium, as we called the surprising process that had yielded barium, far down in the periodic table.  —Otto Hahn
[NOTE: Hahn won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for 1944.]

CHAOS— “What U.S. universities need most is ‘some peace and quiet and order,’ according to J. C. Warner, president of the Carnegie Institute of Technology. In an article published last month, he said that Government emphasis on applied research has so disorganized university work that many scientists are ‘living a life of intellectual chaos.’ Their energies have been channeled away from teaching and creative research and often are dissipated in administrative work. Many scientists, he added, have become restless, ‘to spend a semester or a year abroad, or in another ­institution... or on a glamorous missile or satellite project.’”

FEBRUARY 1858
HOT AIR— “The Worcester (Mass.) Spy describes another of those brilliant inventions with which H. M. Paine is accustomed to dazzle the world, such as eclipsing the sun by his electric ‘water-gas light.’ The present new invention is nothing less than a cold steam engine. Paine generates steam without a boiler, from water which never boils, in a tank which never gets hot, and which is to take the place of the huge death-dealing steam boiler! A model of the engine has been exhibited to some admiring friends in Worcester, and the Spy states that ‘the result is incredible (we doubt not) to any but those who actually witnessed it.”

This article was originally published with the title "50,100 &150 Years Ago."

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