Lightning, most awesome of the spectacular forces of nature, has yielded some of its mystery to science. But not all. We no longer credit it, as did our ancestors, to an angry Zeus or an impetuous Thor. Since Ben Franklin flew his adventurous kites, nearly two centuries ago, we know it is “made of electricity.” We have some idea how it prepares its path through the air. We have found out what almost infinitesimal fraction of a split second it takes for its leap. We guess (though crudely) at the amount of energy in a flash.
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But we do not know with certainty what makes its light. We can only infer why it causes thunder. And we are as helpless as were our most scared and benighted forebears at the job of predicting where it is going to strike next. Weather scientists who specialize in lightning can work for many years before they need sigh for more worlds to conquer.
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ELECTRIC CURRENT UNTANGLES SALT AND PAINT ON OLD VASES
Success in the uncanny feat of using electric current to sort out a tangle of salt crusts and paint on an antique Greek vase was reported by Dr. Colin G. Fink, professor of electrochemistry at Columbia University, at the meeting of the American Association of Museums in Chicago.
Dr. Finks success in restoring metal art objects by this method previously attracted wide attention. He has now demonstrated that antique pottery long exposed to action of salts in the earth can be returned to its original beauty by electrolysis.
SEA WATER NITRATES INCREASED BY UNKNOWN “SOMETHING”
There seems to be something in sea water, something that may not be alive, which nevertheless can change ammonia into nitrate when sunlight shines upon it.
This discovery, highly important in its bearing on the understanding of both “pure” marine biology and such practical applications as fisheries problems, is announced in Science by C.E. ZoBell of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography.
Nitrates are necessary for the growth of plants, both in the sea and on land. On land, there are groups of soil bacteria that attend to the conversion of other nitrogen-containing compounds into nitrates, making them available for plant use. But such bacteria have never been found in the sea, and when Mr. ZoBell checked up on the work of previous investigators he also was unable to demonstrate their existence. Even when he purposely planted nitrifying bacteria in sea water and gave them the most favorable food and temperature conditions, they all died. There remains, of course, the possibility that there are other kinds of nitrifying bacteria in the sea that have not yet been detected; but this is necessarily only a conjecture.
Yet the nitrifying process goes on in the sea. Mr. ZoBell was able to prove, by chemical tests, that sea water changed ammonium salts into nitrates when sunlight shown upon it, though it did not do so in the dark. Passed through a fine-pored filter to strain out all bacteria, sea water still possessed this nitrifying power under sunlight. But sea water heated in an autoclave under stream pressure no longer formed nitrates. Neither did artificial sea water, synthesized out of distilled water and appropriate quantities of various salts.