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THE TRAINED MAN OF SCIENCE IN THE WAR1
THE motto of our society, as our newly initiated members now know, is one by following which unconsciously they have won admission to it: "The love of learning is the guide of life." It must have occurred to you all to ask how can this assertion be true in times like these. That an answer may be given easily is evident if we remember the circumstances under which the society was founded, at the College of William and Mary, in the midst of the Revolution. Our ancestors were engaged in a struggle for the freedom of the individual, the freedom of the soul; so are we to-day. They had entered this entirely unprepared; so did we. They were faced with difficulties which seemed at times unsurmountable; our obstacles to victory are no less formidable. The Phi Beta Kappa Society owes its origin to a recognition on the part of its founders and supporters of two great facts: the importance to the individual of the love of learning and the responsibility resting upon him as an educated man to serve his country.
I think it is only fair to say that the universities of this country have played their part well. Before we actually entered this war, in those anxious years when we were waiting to see whether we would be given an opportunity to join in the fight for the cause of honor, freedom and the teachings of Christianity, or whether we must walk through the years of our lives with heads hung in disgrace, no group of people did as much to hold aloft the illuminating torch, revealing the iniquity of the enemy of civilization, as did the presidents of our universities. Theirs will be the honor forever. They would not keep silent. Then, as soon as we were by official act in a state of war, the first to step forward and say use
1 Annual address before the Phi Beta Kappa Society, University of Virginia, 1918.
me were the faculties and the student bodies. It was indeed a sight which brought tears to the eyes, and even further, to see our young men, the chosen men of our land, struggle against all restraints, eager to bring to an end that evil thing which threatened to destroy all the joy of life, all that made life worth living. Every teacher has felt thrilled by the daily farewells of his students, as one by one has obtained permission, by fair means or otherwise, to enlist in the grand adventure. We men associated with universities may well be proud.
Think for a moment what unutterable shame would have been ours if we had not acted with such certainty and such promptness. Every privilege brings its responsibility. It is a privilege to acquire an education and to share in imparting one. The country as a whole has grown to recognize this, and to look to the universities and to men trained in universities for advice, if not for guidance. It is the privilege of being a young man to-day, a college man or not, to be a soldier in the cause of civilization and to help bring victory to its colors; and what a glorious privilege this is! But upon whom rests the duty of interpreting events and their causes in language so clear that every man understands? Surely, upon the university man. And, when victory is won and men can give their minds to thoughts of safeguarding the world, there is no one to guide them but the students of history and of political science. It would be a simple matter to show how a special and particular responsibility has already come to and will continue to remain with each and every university group of scholars. I can speak with more definite knowledge of the relation borne by various branches of science with the war; and it is to this feature that I shall confine myself to-night.
A recent writer has alleged that the study of science at the expense of morals in German universities has led to this war. This is a bitter charge, but it is supported only by fallacies. Macaulay, in his brilliant essay on Dryden, shows, by a series of striking illustrations, how little is the influence upon the age of any individual, or any special group of in
dividuals, when compared with the influence of the age on the man or group. When the time is ripe, the idea is born; the special man who reveals it is immaterial. So it is to-day, no one man, no particular department of thought or study can be held responsible for the present conditions in Europe. It is no more fair to say that the pursuit of science perverts character than to assert that the study of morals results in ennobling it. This war is due to a gradual debasement of character and nothing else, and the cause is to be sought in the will of the leaders of Germany.
One reason why science has been thought of as the scapegoat is because it was so evident from the very beginning of the war that Germany had mobilized for the purpose of war all her men of science, and was using the fruits of their investigations in ways entirely unexpected. This was a matter of great surprise to most Americans, and illustrates clearly the comparatively insignificant position held by scientific men in the minds of our people. This feature of Germany's long preparation for war, and of her manner of waging it was recognized instantly; and preparations to combat it were made promptly by all the allied peoples. Fortunately for us, the essential advantages were all with the French and British, inasmuch as their men of science had for nearly a generation been the ones who had given to the world its great discoveries and their most important applications. So their scientists came to the problems with ideas and methods which in many cases far surpassed the power of Germany to equal. The result was instantaneous; and to-day the efficiency of the forces of the Allies on the sea, on the land and in the air is due in no small degree to the men whose previous lives had been devoted to the pursuit of the pure sciences in university laboratories.
When this country entered the war, it is true beyond any doubt that the American people had great expectations, nay a conviction, that with our so-called inventive genius we would seriously influence the war, perhaps stop it, by the epoch-making inventions which our professional, highly advertised, inventors
would quickly make. The newspapers helped in fostering this belief, and many were the proud boasts which we heard. There was a great disappointment, almost a shock, as the days went by, the periods promised for great accomplishment passed, and certain names almost disappeared from the public press. We have in fact stopped asking what has happened to the "wizards." The reason is that the problem of this war is not to perfect an old device, but to design a new one; the knowledge required is not that of the amateur or even of the trained engineer, but definitely that of the scientific investigator, the man who by his own laboratory investigations has added to our store of knowledge. One illustration of this may suffice; one government board, with whose activity I am familiar, has had submitted to it in the course of the year 16,000 projects and devices, proposed by so-called inventors; of these only five had sufficient value to deserve encouragement. I have nothing but admiration for these 15,995 men, whose disappointment must have been keen. Most of them were more than willing to give their inventions freely to the government. The point I wish to emphasize is that the ability and knowledge required in waging this war successfully are not those possessed by any body of men except those with a profound knowledge of science and of scientific method. The problems are too complicated. It is true that with the help of trained technical men we will get better engines, better explosives, better guns; and for these we should be truly grateful to our muchboasted American genius. But, consider a problem like this: to devise a light signal, which can be used by day or by night, and which will be absolutely invisible to the enemy. Who can solve that? The answer is obvious: only a physicist.
In times of peace, when commercial development is uppermost in men's minds, the university scholar is at a great disadvantage. He rarely knows what problem is to be solved. He is busy with his own studies and researches, and does not come in contact, in the ordinary course of his life, with the demands of the technical trades. His discoveries are made
use of, and are always sooner or later-of commercial value; but in this later stage he does not take part. Nearly all of our great technical companies maintain extensive laboratories where trained men pursue investigations in pure science; but problems are rarely given them to solve. To-day, in order to meet the insistent demands of the war, the whole process is changed. On every battle front of Europe, attached to the various staffs, are men from university faculties, skilled in observing, quick to learn what is needed. In Paris, London and Rome there are groups of university men whose duty it is to collect data from the Allied powers along similar lines. Reports containing clear statements of the problems are cabled to Washington. To this same center come requests for help from our own forces on this side of the ocean. Then, as soon as the problem can be formulated with definiteness, one or more men are asked to find the solution. For the first time in the history of science, men who are devoting their lives to it have an immediate opportunity of proving their worth to their country. It is a wonderful moment; and the universities of this country are seizing it. The stimulus to scientific work is simply enormous; and the growth of our knowledge is astounding. In many cases investigations are prolonged for months, and in the end possibly the much desired solution is not obtained; but in any case new methods are made available for future use, new instruments are perfected, and the store of human knowledge is vastly increased. Let me give one illustration of this reaction of the demands of war upon pure research. In the construction of a mask to be used in case of a gas-attack it is obvious that one method of defense is to make use of charcoal which is known to absorb many gases with great rapidity. pidity. A scientific problem was to try to increase the efficiency of this absorbing action; and it was soon discovered that by a special treatment of charcoal made in special sizes from special wood the absorptive power could be increased enormously. Here is a fact of the greatest importance to the chemist, a fact which will be remembered in countless investi
gations of the future; and yet it is doubtful if it would have been discovered for many years to come if a particular chemist had not been asked by the military officers to help them.
As I trust you have already discovered, my thesis to-night is the importance of the work of the trained man of science in this war, with emphasis upon the fact that his great usefulness should not be a matter of surprise, as it is to most Americans. The best way of demonstrating this is to give a few illustrations, chosen from a wide field and not limited to the scientific work of any one country. Naturally I can refer only to those matters which have been revealed to the public; but I trust that many of them will be new to this audience. I have this confidence because so far the newspapers of this country have not believed that these questions would make what is called a "story."
It is not easy to make a selection of the scientific problems, nor to arrange them in any logical order. There are two subjects uppermost in the minds of every one: the airplane and the submarine. The scientific questions which have arisen in regard to each are most varied. The airplane itself is an engineering structure; and we have confined ourselves in this country largely to the design and production of an engine. This does not really come under my general subject, but every one is so interested in it that I feel justified in referring briefly to what we have done. Our task was to produce on a great scale a powerful, efficient engine. This is now being done. The so-called Liberty 12-cylinder engine does not have its superior in the world, and further, it was so designed that it could be manufactured on an enormous scale, at least 1,500 a month. This engine has over 400 horse-power and weighs close to 800 pounds, and therefore it is useful for seaplanes, two-seater machines and bomb-droppers, but not for small machines. When the same engine is made with 6 cylinders, developing about 220 horse-power, and weighing about 400 pounds, we will have an ideal engine, not equalled by any now in existence, for speed scout machines. We could not have followed any plan more useful to our
selves and the Allies than to make this concentration of effort. Our eminent success is a cause of pride to every American. With regard to the airplanes, considered apart from their engines, a few statements of fact must suffice, but they are facts. The best airplanes in service to-day, for each and every purpose, are those of British and French design. This is the result of real scientific investigation. The resistance offered by wings of different sections, the stability of the airplane, the character of the covering surfaces have all been investigated, and the finished product is the result of the knowledge thus acquired. We are doing similar scientific work in this country to-day, and, as we have engineers and manufacturers unsurpassed in the world, the time is not long distant when a truly American airplane will be made. We shall suffer, however, one serious detriment during the war; we are so far away that it will be extremely difficult for us to make the alterations in design which the varying conditions of modern war impose. Difficulties of transportation are great, and it is a serious question whether it would not be best for us to remove bodily our most important airplane shops directly to the Continent. From a scientific standpoint the most important questions arising in connection with airplanes are instruments of navigation and methods of signalling to and from the ground and each other Each machine should have for ordinary flights an instrument to indicate height above the ground, another to give the speed of flight through the air, another to tell how steep is the ascent or the descent, and many others. For long-distance flights a compass is necessary, and other instruments as well. The design of each of these is a distinct scientific problem. Think of the requirements for a compass to be used with an airplane; for a ship on the ocean the problem is complicated, but how much more so for a vessel which turns rapidly, revolves in spirals, and which practically never keeps a constant course. In practise even more difficulties arise. The whole question of airplane instruments is still unsettled to a certain extent; many essential instruments have not as
yet been designed, and improvements are needed in them all. Scientific men in all countries, including our own, have the matter under study; and the results so far accomplished are truly wonderful. In the use of airplanes for observation purposes, or in squadron formation in making attacks, it is essential for the men in the machine to communicate with the ground. Many systems are in use, involving the application of light signals, wireless telegraph, etc. Obviously the proper instrument would be the wireless telephone, and that is surely coming, and soon it will be possible for one pilot to talk with another or with the commanding officer on the earth; and the latter can give orders to all of his machines in the air. The objection to the use of all forms of wireless apparatus, telegraph or telephone, is that the enemy may confuse the signals by using the same wave-length for his disturbing impulses. This may be prevented however. Under the demands of the modern army, all forms of wireless have been so perfected that the progress made is a source of surprise and wonder. In fact there have been made in this country certain modifications and improvements which are held rigidly secret. It is interesting to note that every one of these alterations in wireless operation was first worked out in physical laboratories, by trained physicists. Bomb dropping as practised to-day is not a scientific operation; there are too many variables. In spite of this, though, the accuracy of hits is increasing daily; and new processes are being developed. When it is seen that one method can not be made accurate, the next step is to devise one that will be. It will not be long before all the countries in the war will realize the fact that' the tactics of fighting in the air are essentially unique, and there will be a land-service, a seaservice and an air-service. Both the army and the navy need airplanes for their operations; but after their demands are supplied, there remains the wide expanse of the air through which attacks can be made upon the enemy, far away from the battle-front and the coast. Great Britain has recognized this allimportant fact, and is building a great fleet of
airplanes for this new service. In this, new instruments, new types of machines, new guns and bombs are required.
There are two main problems in connection with the submarine, first to locate it, second to destroy it. Methods of destruction are at hand in the shape of depth bombs; but methods of detection so far have not been eminently successful. From an airplane one can see through the water only to a limited depth, never more than twenty feet, and so the main reason why the seaplanes have been so successful in destroying submarines is not due to the fact that the observer in the airplane discovers his prey, but is that his machine has such great speed, three times that of a destroyer, that when news is flashed that a vessel is being attacked by a submarine it can often reach the spot in time to drop its bomb effectively. The detection of the presence of a submarine is a definite physical problem; and it is not an exaggeration to say that at least one fourth of the physicists of note in England, France and this country have been engaged in the attempt to solve it. What lines of attack upon it are open? Not many. The submarine in motion emits certain sounds; can they be heard? It is a solid body; can one obtain an echo from it? It is made of iron; can this fact help through some magnetic action? These are the obvious lines of approach, but one should not hastily conclude that there are not others. Without stating, and I may not, how far successful these efforts of the physicists have been, I may note that the method which is now being tested by our Navy is one elaborated by a distinguished professor of mathematical physics. In the course of these extremely numerous experiments upon the submarine question several beautiful methods have been developed which after the war will have great scientific importance; one of these, due to a French physicist, is one of the most interesting developments in physics made within a decade. Another submarine problem, which is by no means of secondary importance, is to develop a method by which one submarine may communicate with another or with the shore. I do not think I