THE RESEARCH COUNCIL AND ITS WORK
AN ADDRESS BY PROFESSOR A. B. McCALLUM, PH.D., Sc.D., LL.D., F.R.S.
Before the Empire Club of Canada, Toronto
March 8, 1917
MR. PRESIDENT AND GENTLEMEN,--When I addressed the Empire Club on a previous occasion, on the subject of the Research Council, I used the opportunity presented to me of dwelling on the work and aims of that body, in general terms only, because, with the responsibilities at the time so recently assumed, I did not venture to be explicit or definite for fear that I might, by wrongly anticipating not only our hopes, but also our achievements, prejudice the position which the Council should occupy in the public mind. I intimated then to your Chairman that I would be prepared at some later date to discuss, perhaps more precisely, the functions and aims of the Council. It is in consequence of that intimation that I am today addressing you now on the same topic, for the purpose expressly of assisting in making the public understand what led to the establishment of the Research Council, What its position as a public body is, what it aims to do and what it has already done.
Before the Canadian Research Council was founded other Research Councils had been established and had been active in promoting their objects. The British Advisory Council was created in July, 1915, and it has already twenty months of existence. A similar Advisory Council for the Commonwealth of Australia was appointed in January of last year and it presented recently the report of its first year of activity. In the United States three bodies are now concerned in promoting preparedness, not only for war, but for the peace that may follow. One of these, The Advisory Commission of the National Council of Defence, which grew out of the Naval Consulting Board appointed two years ago, has already taken stock of all the industrial plants in the United States that can be of service to the nation in war, and has lined up, in preparation there for all the national technological associations. A second body, the Committee of One Hundred of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, appointed to foster specially the industrial development of the nation, embraces in its membership a great many of the leaders in the army of researchers of the United States. There is the third organization, the National Research Council, appointed by the National Academy of Science early in 106, and given a national and official position by the approval of the President of the United States.
These three organizations are now at work and, undoubtedly, one of the results of their activities will be, in the immediate future, a marked development of scientific research in its application to industrial development and a marked increase, in the industrial output of the United States.
The Canadian Research Council was not called into existence too soon or too late. In the world crisis of today Canada has, industrially, a specially favoured position. We were, at the beginning of it, not wholly thrown on our own resources, industrial and natural, as Great Britain and Australia were. They found themselves at once cut off from the sources of their supplies in raw material in certain lines; and they were quite unprepared to undertake the manufacture of products of a vitally essential character which they previously imported from abroad, chiefly from countries now at war with them. They had to act, but they did not do so at once. The British Council was formed eleven months after the war began. The Australian Council came into existence seven months later still. We in Canada did not feel the urgency of action in this matter because we are side by side with a nation of one hundred million people, with resources largely developed, which so far has supplied us in very large part with what we formerly imported from Europe, and at prices which, though considerably enhanced, were not prohibitive. The urgency that existed in Great Britain and Australia did not, therefore, obtain with us, and, consequently, Sir George E. Foster, who had charge of the matter, took the position, which I think was wholly correct, that, before creating a Canadian Research Council, the results of the experience gained elsewhere should be carefully studied, and the conclusions drawn there-from wisely applied in our case.
Hasty action might have led to a situation which it would be difficult to remedy, while delay has not involved any disadvantages, at least, that we can see, beyond the fact that the Council now formed has to acquire, more or less carefully, the particular experience and knowledge that our own Canadian needs render necessary for the solution of our problems in industry and science.
The Council, which began its existence three months ago, has so far performed its duties with a directness and an earnestness that promises much for its usefulness. It has organized itself and prepared for its work in a way that certainly is encouraging to not only its presiding officer, but also to Sir George Foster and the Committee of the Privy Council over which he presides, and with which the Research Council is associated.
Its duties are comprehensive. They include the direct encouragement and promotion of scientific and industrial research in Canada for the development and expansion of our industries, the co-operation and coordination of all the forces engaged in this object to prevent overlapping of effort, and the waste of money that might result from this overlapping; the direction of the man power for research in Canada, to the end that it may be utilized with the utmost effectiveness for the solution of the most practical and pressing research problems in our national industries.
To indicate these duties thus is to understate the magnitude of the labour the Council has undertaken. They involve, if they are to be performed successfully, a result which will effect a revolution not only in the industries of Canada, but, before everything else, in the attitude towards research of all those who are in any way concerned with our industries; of the Governments, Dominion and Provincial, with scientific bureaus and departments of our universities, and of public opinion to which Governments bow.
Hitherto in this country and, for that matter, also in Great Britain and the United States, the development of the technical and scientific processes, which are concerned in the expansion of the industries, has only in isolated instances been the intelligent concern of the State. The doctrines of leave-well-alone and of individualism have been worshipped as if they were the irrefragable principles of political wisdom, and, in consequence, the development of our industries was determined in great part, regardless of the proportions which should obtain between our needs and our resources. There was no concerted and coordinated action, and the industries of the country, with the exception in part of agriculture, were left to take care of themselves. They had resort to scientific methods, of course, but in the great majority these methods were of the practical kind, and research featured but a very small extent, because corporations engaged in industry and their managers were not advanced enough in their views to recognize that research is a factor and a very powerful one, in the development of a very large number of our industries. No stimulus came from Governments, because these, recruited almost wholly from a class whose training has been almost wholly other than scientific, could not get the necessary point of view.
The revolution in the attitude of the public has already taken place and our legislators have taken heed of it, but will the result remain after the cause of it has ceased to exist? Will the public and Governments have the new point of view after the War is ended? I am convinced that it will and for one very cogent reason, which is the enormous debt, $1,200,000,000, at least, which the country will have to carry when the war is over. This, with a dislocation of our industries, which will result on the cessation of the manufacture of war munitions, will impose on those guiding the destinies of our nation for the next two or three generations a concern and anxiety which will cause a decisive rejection of the old leave-well-alone policy, once so popular in all Anglo-Saxon countries: To meet even the interest on this huge debt will require a care of our national industries, and a utilization of our resources, that we have never shown in the past. The situation will be accentuated by the conditions that will prevail elsewhere. The debt of the belligerent nations of the world, as a result of this war, will be over $100,000,000,000. Helfferich, the German Minister of Finance, estimated that so far it is $75,000,000,000. This is a colossal burden. It equals the total of the national wealth of Germany and Austria; and the higher estimate approaches closely the amount of the national wealth of the British Empire. It will involve an annual charge, perhaps, for a century to come, of $5,000,000,000 a year. To meet this the nations will have to economize, work, in fact, strain all their energies to carry the staggering load. To ease it or to lessen it, each nation will strive to speed up its labour, increase its manufactured exports, and compete advantageously with its rivals in the markets of the world. To do all this successfully, the highest skill, the most advanced knowledge will be employed and the competition that will prevail will be the keenest the world has every known or, perhaps, will ever know. Science will be fostered and research, not only in pure science, but in its applications, will be promoted as it has never been before.
What chance will Canada have of holding her own or of forging ahead in this after-the-war struggle, if she does not employ the most advanced, the most approved methods in her industries; and to this end cultivate research, and train researchers, who will place at her command the utmost that human ingenuity can devise in science or its application?
To ask this question is to suggest the answer, and I am confident that after the war and for many years to come the old casual policy, the let-well-alone attitude will not obtrude itself in the direction of the affairs of the nation.
I am not one of those who believe that the nation should be governed by experts, or even by philosophers, as postulated by idealists. The cause of this war is, in my opinion, to be found in the fact that Germany has put the idealists' theory into practice, and, in consequence, every one of its departments of State is manned by experts who neglect and have neglected every consideration except those which will tell in effecting the object immediately in view. Statesmanship comprehends something more than that. It gives place to the forces of prudence, the principles of humanity, the ethics and the wisdom that have been developed by man in the long and weary journey from barbarism to the higher civilization of today. Had German statesmanship of the highest order been in command and assisted, but not dominated, by experts, the history of the last three years would have been absolutely different.
It is certain that our system of government will continue unchanged because, on the whole, it is best suited to give play to all the forces that ensure civilization and human happiness; but a system freed wholly from laisser faire tendencies, and willing to be guided, but not directed, on its executive side by experts; and that the needs of the near future, and especially those that will be concerned in the world struggle, will be met in this way.
This is the significance of the situation on which I am dwelling today. Expert knowledge is to be utilized as it has never been utilized in Canada, and for this purpose the Research Council was created. It is to be noted that it is a Council, not a Commission, and that this postulates that it is an advisory body only, as, indeed, the name "Advisory" in its title somewhat redundantly signifies. Its acts are valid only when the appointing body, the Privy Council, approves and, consequently, its executive functions are of the lightest character and involve the gathering of data, and the concentration of the best scientific opinion in the country for the service of the Government.
The Research Council has been engaged in this work for three months already and it has already made a report to the Government on its activities. It has discussed the question of undertaking two experiments which concern two of the important natural resources of the Dominion. One of these, the lignites of the Western plains, is not utilizable to any extent in its natural form, owing to the large percentage of water which they contain and which cause them to weather rapidly after extraction from the mine. The needs of the West in the matter of fuel are very urgent. Anthracite coal is obtainable in Saskatchewan and Manitoba at prices higher than obtain anywhere else on this Continent, ranging from $ 10 to $ 12 and more a ton; while in these Provinces and in Alberta there isan enormous amount of lignite deposit, which, even when utilized as requirements may demand, will last for hundreds, perhaps for thousands of years. Attempts have been made elsewhere to use similar lignites by driving off the moisture and the gas which they contain, and utilizing the tar that is collected to bind the residue, which may thus be compressed in the form of briquettes. The employment of this method in the West has not so far been attended with success, but it is believed that they can be so utilized, provided the right methods are employed. The Research Council has made certain recommendations to the Privy Council Committee on Industrial and Scientific Research as to the way in which this problem may be solved, in order to demonstrate that lignites, appropriately treated, are much cheaper than and quite as efficient as high grade coal. What the line of attack on this problem may be, I cannot say, for the recommendations are now before the Privy Council Committee, but action will be taken, I believe, in the next few months, so that the experiment will be completed before a year is over.
If, as the Council believes, it will be demonstrated that the cost of briquetted lignites is much lower than the price of high grade coal per ton, an enormous service will be done to the public in those Provinces.
The Research Council has given consideration also to the question of studying forest growth. Our forests, unless care be taken, will be depleted before even we have the data on which to base any effort to prevent this depletion. The cutting down of our forests exceeds, apparently, the natural growth, but it is necessary that we should know all the factors that are involved in this growth.
The Forestry Association of Canada and the Forestry Department of the Dominion have recommended to the Research Council the undertaking of these studies on forest growth and the Council has presented to the Privy Council Committee the" results of its deliberations on the subject. Action will doubtless be taken at an early date, with the view of getting accurate data as to forest growth, in order to be prepared to take measures to conserve our forest wealth.
This problem, like that on the lignites, is very urgent, and the Research Council has placed it in the front rank for the moment.
There are, however, other questions upon which the Council is taking time to formulate its point of view. These are the potash question, the phosphate question and the electric fixation of atmospheric nitrogen. The potash question has for the moment an enhanced position. For years before the war practically all the potash in this country came directly or indirectly from the Stassfurt beds in Prussia. The supply there is an enormous one, and easily mined and prepared for the market. The price was low and, consequently, the Stassfurt potash displaced potash from all other sources of supply of thirty to forty years ago. Today the Stassfurt supply is cut off and, in consequence, we have to look round for the potash that must supply our agriculture, and must be supplied as a fertilizer and for our arts and industries. We have very great quantities of minerals in our country which contain from 8 to 11 per cent. of potassium. These minerals are in a more or less insoluble and unusable form as they exist, but by methods of manipulation the potassium in them can be obtained, and it is a question whether the potassium from this source can be obtained in an economic way.
The same may be said with regard to the phosphates. There are large quantities of phosphate-holding mineral in Canada. As phosphates are used as fertilizers, it is necessary to consider whether the Canadian phosphates should not be investigated to produce a product which would compete with the phosphates from Florida, where the grade is high and the cost of production is very low.
As to the fixation of nitrogen, I desire to call your attention to the map which is here displayed. It is intended to demonstrate the water power of the Dominion. You will note that where the lignites are scantiest there is an abundance of water power. In fact, there is no other country on the globe in which the amount of water power, possibly, is so extensive. The utilization of this water power may be in three directions
1. For the supply of energy to run our industries.
2. To furnish what is known as "white coal," and
3. To convert the absolutely inexhaustible supply of nitrogen in the atmosphere into fixed nitrogen, available for fertilizing our soils and to produce nitric acid and ammonia.
The utilization of the water power for supplying energy to our industries is now being solved in many parts of the Eastern portion of our Dominion; but the question of the conversion of water power into electrical energy for use in heating has not yet been brought to an economic, practical stage. The utilization of electrical energy from the same source for the fixation of nitrogen, except in one particular line, has not advanced to a point where economic action can be taken.
The solutions of these two questions are all-important for Canada, and it is probable that our Research Council may attempt to help in reaching the solutions desired.
Let me point out that, once these two questions are solved, there will be achieved an all-important change in our industrial life. We import enormous quantities of coal from the United States and production from that source, having reached its maximum, will in the next few years begin to show a decrease. Indeed, it is already doing so, and we shall have to depend for heating either upon the coal of Nova Scotia or upon electrical energy from our water supply. There is the possibility, also, that the United States may place an embargo on the export of its coal, in which case Eastern Canada would be placed in a difficult position, if there was nothing to supply its place.
It is, therefore, urgently important that the studies on the utilization of our water power for the production of electrical energy should be fostered to the utmost extent.
May I point out that for Canadian agriculture the production of potash, phosphates and fixed nitrogen is to be the problem of the near future.
As to the world's supply of fixed nitrogen, it is estimated that in' 40 or So years the Chilean beds of salt-petre will be exhausted. The world must then turn to the nitrogen of the atmosphere to get its supply of fixed nitrogen, and the nation that has the largest supply of water power will be the leading, producer of fixed nitrogen compounds that are necessary in agriculture and arts. You can, therefore, see what an important bearing our enormous water power has upon the future of our industries.
There are a number of other problems which the Council has undertaken to consider and the solution of "which they will attempt to furnish, or assist in furnishing. I need not dwell upon these, because they do not stand in the foreground at the moment.
One of the most important functions of the Researeh Council is that of the promotion of research in Canada. This research is not to be wholly industrial. It is to be in pure science also. I often think that the line of separation between pure and industrial research is only a matter of name, or a point of view. It is, as I have on a previous occasion pointed out, impossible to prophesy whether a principle in pure science will be inapplicable to industrial advancement. An illustration, which I have in mind just now, gives this emphasis. Up till four or five years ago the principle in physics, that we call "surface tension" was a pure laboratory concept. It was difficult to conceive that it would ever have any industrial application. Physicists, physical chemists and biochemists concerned themselves with it and made investigations upon it, with results which seemed to have only a purely scientific bearing; but it has now found an application which has already revolutionized certain milling and ore-separating processes. In many ores silica, or waste rock, preponderates, and to utilize such minerals economically involves the separation in a convenient way of the two elements of the ore.
Up till a few years ago attempts to separate them were made by means of gravity in water. The rock was ground into a fine powder and the powder treated with water which carried off a proportion of the silica powder, or gangue, as it is called, and left the ore-containing part to sediment. The water, however, carried away not all the silica, and it carried with it also a portion of the mineral, which was thereby lost. Three or four years ago it was found that by putting into the water, separating the two products of the milling process, a small quantity of oil, and agitating, a large amount of foam was produced which carried in it from 8o to go percent of the mineral and contained, practically, none of the gangue, or silica.
This process (now called the "flotation process") was very soon employed as an industrial process and is being used in the United States in a large number of mining plants. It is utilized today at Cobalt and nearly half of the ore, which is turned out in that locality, is now so treated. Through it ores, which were not considered of economic value, are now being treated and yield a very high return, not only in the form of output, but in very satisfactory dividends. It concerns ores like the sulphide of lead, zinc, copper, antimony, cobalt; and the process is used also in the separation of silver and gold from the rocks bearing them.
The principle involved is surface tension, the force that rounds a drop of water, or a drop of mercury, or a drop of any melted element. It is the force that concerns the formation of a soap bubble, of the froth on water, it is the force that involves or determines the distribution of salts in the body and it constitutes many of the forces of living matter.
I have concerned myself in my practical studies with this principle a great deal during the last ten years: and I would have been very slow to predict that it could ever be utilized in such a fashion as that now involved in the "flotation method" of ore separation.
I predict the extension of this process to a degree that is likely to enhance the industrial utilization of a large supply of our minerals, that are now supposed to be economically valueless. One can hardly, however, predict what transformations this flotation process will undergo in the next few years, but I should like to ask you to remember that it is at present only in the incipient stage of its utilization.
Now, the fostering of research in this country must be systematically undertaken. The Council desires to develop research and to do so it must co-operate all the forces in the country to this end. It is useless to train the manual forces of the country without training the officers who are to lead. We hear much about manual training today, about what it will do for our industries. There is no doubt that manual training is very important, indeed, in furnishing a supply of skilled labour for our factories, concerned in turning out more or less special products, but if there are no leaders to promote the development of these industries, if there are none to guide the rank and file, how is it possible to develop our industries, as the conditions that now exist, or will exist when the war is over, demand? Managers of great business ability and of insight as to the conditions of labour and the market cannot and will not take the place that researches only will fill.
There were in Canada before the war not enough researchers to meet the needs which then prevailed. For the conditions which will obtain when the war is past there will not be enough to staff 10 percent of the industries that will require them.
There is current, I know, the opinion that every technologist in metallurgy, chemistry and physics is capable of carrying on research and achieving success in it. That opinion is, I know, also held by a very considerable number of the technologists themselves. Now, while paying the highest tribute to these because of their achievements in their calling, achievements in many instances of the highest distinction, I must say that the claim that technologists are necessarily research men is based on a misconception as to what research calls for. It demands in those who persistently follow it a special type of mind; representatives of which have always been more or less rare, and to which the progress of the race has been due. It led to the production of the first chipped flint in the Eolithic Age; it invented the wheel and the sail, it discovered the Arts, in their crudest form, of smelting, forging, weaving and husbandry in the early dawn of our civilization; and it is today as eager as ever, if opportunity allows, to explore the unknown and investigate the untried for the very peculiar reward, the mental satisfaction it gives, which can never be measured by any pecuniary or social standard. This type of mind is more or less what is known in biological terminology as a "sport," a special variant from the usual, and the number illustrating it in any generation must be very small, perhaps not more than one hundredth of one per cent. In the United States, with one hundred million of population, there are probably not more than ten thousand, all told, of such, and only a moderate proportion of these are in the ranks of the technologists of all classes.
The German Universities graduated every year before the war over 5,000 doctors of all classes, from each of whom was required achievement of a research on which special stress was laid. Of the 5,000 or more, about 3,000 were in the Scientific Departments. It has been maintained, and I am inclined to believe justifiably, that of this large number only about 6 percent, or nearly 200, become permanently enlisted in the research class of the nation, to which all advance in German Science, pure and applied, is due. The remainder of the graduates, the vast majority, either become teachers in the Gymnasia and the Real Schulen, officials of the clerical class, or technologists of the routine type in industrial establishments. From the labours of these very rarely comes anything that makes for any advance in Science. They have not in their mental make-up the qualities which are necessary for a life of research, and it is these qualities that make their career very different from that of the members of the smaller class, the life-long researchers.
The universities of the United States and Canada have been turning out graduates in Science, who are of both classes, but those of the rarer mental type have been very few in number, and, consequently, progress along advanced industrial lines has not hitherto paralleled that of Germany. The other class, ineffectively trained for the most part, and encouraged by their teachers to regard themselves as capable of research, go into scientific positions in industrial plants where, however, their lack of research capacity and their knowledge of the theory of their science are their outstanding characteristics. One hears much criticism of these from industrial managers who stigmatize them as "theorists," thereby indicating how much they are valued.
Our universities have not hitherto made a systematic effort to find and train those who might become researchers of the permanent type. They have been engaged in the problems of their own development, in meeting the immediate educational needs of the parts of the Dominion which they severally serve, and, consequently, the cultivation of research and the training of researchers have not been a very important part of their activities. Nor will these enter more largely into their object unless they can be induced, in the national interest, to make a special and sustained effort to encourage those who have the research capacity to enter on that career.
The Research Council, in order to stimulate our Canadian Universities to promote this end, has provided twenty Studentships of $600, to be awarded this year to University graduates or others who have the required training therefor, and who, more especially, have the capacity for advancing Science or its application by original research. The holders of such Studentships may receive them a sec6nd year, provided the research work they do in the first is wholly satisfactory to the Research Council. In addition to these Studentships, five Fellowships of $1,000 each are to be awarded to those who have shown a very high capacity for research on some problem, the extension of which is of importance to the national industries of Canada. The holders of these Fellowships may receive them for a second year on the score of having done excellent research work in their first year of tenure.
The Research Council believes that these Studentships will very greatly stimulate recruiting for the Research Legion in Canada. They will certainly in the years to come attract to a research career many young people of great capacity and endowed with those qualities of mind which are essential in a life devoted to research, and who, when their training in research is completed, will find in the scientific development of our industries a career which in intellectual satisfaction, as well as in the more material reward it, gives, will by no means fall short of their ambition to achieve and attain. In a few years there will be a very considerable number of these in the service of the industries.
These Studentships and Fellowships will accomplish another not less important object. They will revolutionize our Canadian Universities. These have hither to, as already stated, not put research in the front of their programme; but under the competition which these Fellowships and Studentships will offer, they will gradually, if not very soon, change their whole point of view and endeavour to develop research as a cardinal aim in their activities. What this fully signifies, only those who have paid careful attention to the subject understand, but I may say that it will profoundly enhance the usefulness of the Universities to our young nation in its efforts to develop all its resources to the utmost.
Is not all this, that I have outlined as the work and aim of the Research Council, an object worthy of the fullest attainment?
A hearty vote of thanks was passed.