Thursday, February 12, 2015

Wilder 'Chemistry' from 1880

What was the first mention of "Chemistry" in the journal Science?

You might think, given that Science started in 1880, that an author would first refer to 19th-century champions such as Perkin or W√∂hler. Perhaps they'd write of new fuels for transportation, electrochemistry, or the advent of large chemical industries such as BASF or DuPont.

None of these. On page 4, issue 1, famed comparative anatomist and professor Burt Wilder writes:
"A Bit of Summer Work: Notwithstanding the number of 'Summer Schools of Science' to be in operation this season, many teachers are likely to pass the vacation at a distance from the facilities afforded by organized laboratories. How shall they employ their time?  
. . .the teacher who hopes to make his instruction each year more thorough than the last, will be pretty sure to spend the remaining month or two in the search of help from books, and, while regretting the vagueness of the information thus obtained, may seldom think of making it more real by personal observation. 
Now it is true that in some branches of science this may require appliances not readily obtained. This is the case with Chemistry and Physics, and some parts of Natural History. But Botany and Entomology may be pursued almost under any circumstances, and I venture to suggest that at least one kind of anatomical work may be carried on with but a slight amount of apparatus."
Wilder's cure for teachers' potential summer slacking? Purchasing "a very sharp knife, and a pair of 'wire-nippers'..." - all the better to study the (freshly-dissected) brains* of cats, sheep, dogs, and rabbits. He closes his essay with this potentially tongue-in-cheek phrase:
"If this is done, by the end of summer the teacher will have become better able to appreciate the peculiarities of the human brain when one comes in his way..."

*Pssst! Did you need instructions for that? Wilder generously provides an address at Cornell where one can obtain hectograph (printing by means of aniline dyes and gelatin plates) copies of cat dissection protocol.

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