From the August 8, 1936, issue


TVA, in the minds of most people, symbolizes just two things: electric power, and a stand-up, knock-down, drag-out politico-legal fight about that power.

This is not at all an accurate picture, but it is the most widely apprehended one. Yet the spectacular struggle-aspect of the TVA could be subtracted from the situation, and still leave TVA as one of the most significant movements that has ever entered the pageant of American history. Power is needed, to make the work of the Tennessee Valley Authority a very powerful thing, both in its effects on the lives of the people in the valley and in its ultimate potencies for the lives of all the rest of us.

Take away the “P” for Power, in the TVA set-up, and you will still find the same mump-faced capital letter, this time in the chemist’s symbolism: P for Phosphorus. Phosphorus is a chemical element little familiar to most of us, yet one without which none of us could live.

Phosphorus is flesh of our flesh and, even more emphatically, bone of our bone: our skeletons are composed largely of calcium phosphate. To obtain this all-necessary life-element we have to depend on plants, and the plants in turn have to depend on the phosphates their roots search out in the soil.

The cover photograph is of a phosphoric acid plant, showing a storage bin and the tall stack from which waste gases are released.


“Dirtless farming,” the technique of growing enormous crops of vegetables in tanks of water containing the necessary fertilizer chemicals, has now been carried outdoors by its inventor, Prof. W.F. Gericke of the University of California. He has obtained enormous yields of potatoes, turnips, carrots, and other garden truck from his outdoor vegetable beds in tanks, and he states that “crops can be grown out of doors in liquid culture medium, in proper season, anywhere the given crop is grown by agriculture.”

Professor Gericke started his experiments and achieved his first successes with vegetables and flowers grown under glass—the luxury, out-of-season crops that yield the biggest cash returns. This has worked out so well that now several California greenhousemen are trying the system on a large scale, under Professor Gericke’s personal supervision. Now he is pioneering with the next step, to bring his tanks out of their glass houses, to test their possibilities in the raising of more plebeian vegetables without the expensive overhead involved in greenhouse culture.


A new method of analyzing blood and other body fluids, capable of detecting elements present to the extent of only one part in 100,000, was explained to the scientists attending the spectroscopy conference of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

The ultra-penetrating eye of science’s master key of investigation, the spectroscope, forms the basis for the delicate and precise analysis. Dr. O.S. Duffendack of the University of Michigan, who developed the new technique along with Dr. Kenneth B. Thomson and Dr. William C. Lee, also of Michigan, told the conference that only two drops of the solution being tested are needed for the investigation, a decided advantage over other methods of analysis in that large amounts of complex body fluids are often not available to investigators.

Dr. Duffendack’s technique also has the advantage of being considerably speedier than the usually employed chemical analysis while losing none of that method’s precision.

The method was developed particularly for the analysis of urine, blood, and other body fluids for sodium, potassium, calcium, and magnesium. And Dr. Duffendack has found that the method also works well in ferreting out minute traces of aluminum, chromium, copper, nickel, iron, silicon, and similar substances in electroplating solutions, caustic liquors, and other industrial chemicals.

More Stories from Science News on Humans