From the September 23, 1933, issue


Desert plants have a particularly hard problem to solve, set by that old Sphinx, the desert itself, and if they fail to solve it, the penalty is the same as that exacted in the old Greek myth–they must die. They must spread a sufficient chlorophyll surface to the sun to enable the indispensable food-making processes to go on; yet they must deny the imperious demands of the water-greedy fiend, the dry desert wind. They must store enough of food and water to tide them over the droughty periods, and enable them to go through the energy-taking process of flow formation and seed bearing.

Leafy succulents of the Crassula family have found one quite successful answer to this exacting problem. They spread their leaves in a low, compact rosette right at the surface of the soil or rock on which they grow. By filling up every chink in the circle thus marked out, they waste no scrap of sunlight. At the same time, by keeping close to the ground, they avoid much of the thirsty wind’s attack. Their leaves, moreover, are severely economical in outline, with no lobes or incisions that would increase the evaporating surface. The whole plant is protected within a thick cuticle and covered with a waxy bloom–armor against water loss. The leaves are thickened, and within them the reserve of water and foodstuffs is stored against the season of need. All round, these little plants must be counted as having met and mastered the challenge of the desert.


All life may involve the presence of a powerful growth-stimulating acid that has been found in many different kinds of plants and animals and has been concentrated by Dr. Roger J. Williams and Carl M. Lyman, of Oregon State College, to a potency 1,000 times stronger than any previously reached.

Because of the widespread occurrence of this little-known substance Dr. Williams, who reported his latest researches to the American Chemical Society, has tentatively named it “pantothenic” acid from the Greek for “from everywhere.” The name is justified by tests that show that pantothenic acid was obtained from all sources examined so far, which include cattle, human and chicken liver, milk, crab eggs, sea urchin eggs, planarian worms, earthworms, oysters, bacteria, molds, yeast, mushrooms, potatoes, apples, grains, algae, and soil.


Chemical curiosities that have recently become useful in scores of jobs, from speeding up the aging of wine to protecting life from poison gas; a method of warding off colds and strengthening the body against other ailments; and new resins that make textiles noncreasable and are strong enough to be molded into chairs and window frames: these were among the scores of advances reported before the Chicago meeting of the American Chemical Society.

Describing as “utopian and distinctly American achievements” the working out of processes by which ordinary air is made to combine with benzene and naphthalene to produce cheaply and in abundance maleic acid, a laboratory rarity a short time ago, Dr. Charles R. Downs, chemical engineer of New York City, pictured some of the many uses to which this new industrial substance is already being put.

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