- The Empire Club of Canada Addresses (Toronto, Canada), 16 Nov 1916, p. 275-287
- McLennan, Professor J.C., Speaker
- Media Type
- Item Type
- The need to put forth every possible effort to bring to the aid of the State every scientific man who is capable of contributing anything to the solution of the great problem before us, the winning of the war. How the necessity for this was realized in Great Britain. Extraordinary measures adopted to make it happen. The speaker's association part of this summer with one of the Boards set up in Great Britain for this purpose. The speaker's realization, on returning to Canada, an attitude of complacency that had previously existed in Great Britain. The need to adopt measures to utilize the scientific ability that exists in our midst. Two or three illustrations that show how science and scientists have helped in the war effort. Physicists and mathematicians solving some issues of precision gunning; finding new methods of maintaining communication during battle so that our forces would not be bombarded by our own guns; the design and production of lighter than air machines that can out-speed the German zeppelins. An idea of the colossal extent of the work that is being done. Devising ways and means for detecting and destroying submarines. The issue of the accumulation of war debt. How Great Britain is preparing to pay its war debt. Lessons we can learn to do the same. Canada, turning to agriculture for revenue. How scientists can help us to adopt measures for increased production. Attacking these and other such problems in a methodical and scientific way. How Germany has utilized science to carry on the war. Seeing to it that we stop squandering the resources of our country. Developing Canada for ourselves without foreign controlled organizations. A story of national squandering related by the speaker. The need to organizing our industries on a scientific basis and to co-ordinate in every way our industrial efforts. Getting the Universities into closer touch with out business organizations. Learning to respect science. Some practical recommendations.
- Date of Original
- 16 Nov 1916
- Language of Item
- Copyright Statement
- The speeches are free of charge but please note that the Empire Club of Canada retains copyright. Neither the speeches themselves nor any part of their content may be used for any purpose other than personal interest or research without the explicit permission of the Empire Club of Canada.
- Empire Club of CanadaEmail
Agency street/mail address
Fairmont Royal York Hotel
100 Front Street West, Floor H
Toronto, ON, M5J 1E3
- Full Text
SCIENCE AND INDUSTRIAL RESEARCH IN CANADA
AN ADDRESS BY PROFESSOR J. C. McLENNAN, PH.D., F.R.S.
Before the Empire Club of Canada, Toronto November 16, 1916
MR. PRESIDENT AND GENTLEMEN,--It is only on very rare occasions I leave the laboratory in the University of Toronto to speak in-public; but a variety of circumstances last spring led to my accepting the Presidency of the Royal Canadian Institute, and thus it became my duty to give some thought to questions associated with the scientific side of our industries. I will try to show, in the few minutes at my disposal, how in a number of different ways science had come to be of tremendous importance, not only to the industries of our country, but in the general working out of the affairs of the nation.
One thing that struck a scientist on coming back to this country from the Old Land was the exceedingly small extent to which the Canadian scientific men were making either direct or indirect contributions to the war. They were spending their time largely in training young men, whereas in a time of great national emergency like the present, every possible effort should be put forward, to bring to the aid of the State every scientific man who was capable of contributing anything to the solution of the great problem before usnamely, the winning of the war. A year ago it was the same in Great Britain, for the scientific professors were not summoned from their class-rooms to aid the State until the army and navy and other departments of Governments realized that they could not go on with the business of the war without them. Extraordinary measures were adopted; powerful and able commissions secured the best scientific talent of Great Britain, and under the Admiralty and the War Office these scientific men are today assisting in every possible way. It was my privilege to be associated part of this summer with one of those Boards, and I had such an insight into their work as has kept my heart thrilling ever since. One of the depressing things to me on returning to Canada was to find prevalent the same attitude of complacency that existed in Great Britain a year and a half ago. We have not yet realized the tremendous effort that must be put forth to win this war. It is an effort involving the use and application of all scientific principles. We must contribute not only by our money and munitions, but we must adopt measures to utilize the scientific ability that exists in our midst.
I will give you two or three illustrations that came under my observation. It was found that our lines were being bombarded by enormous 42 centimetre guns far back from the trenches. The problem of locating those guns was presented to the scientists, for the aeroplanes could not find them, as they were hidden by branches of trees, etc. The problem was given to scientists trained in the principles of physics and mathematics. These worked out a plan first of all of registering vibrations at a number of different points. Every little vibration of every kind of gun was recorded, but every now and then a little tracing appeared somewhat higher than the others, which was due to the explosion from a 42 cm. gun located no one knew where. By measuring the distances between the recording stations to an exceedingly small fraction of an inch, and recording the infinitesimal amount of time between the instants when the vibration was recorded at the different stations, the position of the gun was precisely ascertained. The information was handed to the men in command of our large field guns, and they were told to turn their guns to a certain angle, raise them to a certain elevation, and fire. The 42 cm gun of the enemy was immediately silenced.
Such precision as that was never heard of on a battlefield before, and Sir Douglas Haig sent back a report that it satisfied every requirement of the British Army. I happened to arrive in England about the 28th of June, and heard from a friend that a certain kind of bomb had been invented for bringing down "sausage" balloons. He also told me that a whole squadron of aeroplane flyers had been trained to handle this bomb. The aeroplanes were modified so that the bombs could be carried with ease and speed, and the flyers were trained to rise some 12,500 feet, suddenly swoop down, and when at the right position and going at the rate of about 105 miles an hour they were to let the bombs go. The idea was to bring down all the sausage balloons the Germans had placed up for observation opposite our lines. The "sausage" balloons had been left quite unmolested by us for a long period, and the Germans could not understand our inactivity in this direction. I think it was on Thursday night I spoke to my friend and he said, " ou will find on Saturday all those sausage balloons will come down, and the great 'push' will be made on Sunday." On Saturday evening I bought a paper--there had been no word in any paper of an attack-and it said, "13 sausage balloons brought down this afternoon." That will give you an idea of the precision with which all these things are worked out, and how scientific knowledge is brought to bear on such very important matters as come up in an attack such as we have had to make in these last days.
Then again it was found at Ypres and other places that when an attack was made, some of our forces were bombarded by our own guns-a most unfortunate thing-on account of telephonic communication being cut off between the artillery and the front trenches. This problem of finding new methods of maintaining such communication was handed over to the scientists, to Sir J. J. Thomson in particular, at Cambridge, and he handed it over to one of your citizens and sons, Mr.McLeod, of Deer Park. This young gentleman, I-am glad to say, is-one of two scientists who have recently devised an instrument which will emit signals that are detectable with ease at a distance of five miles. It is a portable instrument and can be easily carried. There is no doubt that its use will save the lives of hundreds of our brave lads who have gone to the front in the great cause of Freedom.
Again, when the zeppelin menace became threatening in England they had not a single zeppelin in that country, and did not know how to make one. After a year and a half they have today in Great Britain an enormous factory in the North of Scotland where they are turning out lighter than air machines that can' out-speed the German zeppelins. They were used on the occasion of the last two attacks when two of the enemy's craft were brought down. The attacking zeppelins were herded together by them, as it were, and this enabled the aeroplanes and the corps in charge of the anti-aircraft guns to concentrate their fire. Improvements in these guns, the use of incendiary bullets and co-operation in the various means of defence have practically wiped out the zeppelin menace in England. As a scientific man, knowing something about this particular problem, I know I am safe in saying that the zeppelin menace is pretty well discounted.
To give an idea of the colossal extent of the work that is being done, I happened a year ago last summer to visit an area where there was nothing but level ground; today over an area of 15 miles by 16 you will find small buildings dotted all over, perhaps 100 yards apart, with enormous factories, and little light railways running between them. These buildings are filled with munitions of all kinds and the factories are busy; making more. I did not think it was humanly possible for such structures to be put up by the nation in one year. Again, if you visit the aeroplane factory at Farnborough you will find buildings covering an area of about 300 acres, all erected practically within one year, and devoted entirely to planning and constructing aeroplanes. In another part of the country you will also find enormous factories producing what are called the "Beta" observation balloons that patrol up and down the Straits of Dover.
At present a tremendous effort is being put forth to devise ways and means for detecting and destroying submarines. It is probably the most difficult problem yet handed out to the scientists. The ablest physicists in England today are cudgelling their brains with all the energy that is in them to devise means of detecting and destroying those pests. Today we have instruments that will detect submarines about four and a half miles in calm weather, and about one and three-quarter miles in stormy weather; that is about the limit of what can be done with thoroughly scientific methods in a quite definite way. With that information the whole of the North Sea and part of the English Channel is being charted every day; we can tell how many submarines are in that area at any one time, and means are being provided all the time to round them up and sink them. It is a colossal piece of work, but the Germans are now so busy constructing those submarines that it looks as though their activity is a little ahead of ours. From what I know, however, I can assure you that every effort is being put forward by the British people and the British scientists to reduce the submarine menace.
Now the problems we have to face are not all associated with the prosecution of the war. Anyone who has followed the course of this war must be almost Amazed at the stupendous rate at which the national debt is being increased. In the Old Country it is simply colossal. In this country we are piling up a debt that is almost paralyzing in its immensity, and anyone who is at all scientific cannot help wondering in looking forward to the future, how we are going to face that debt: Are we going to do our duty by it, or are we to go into bankruptcy? Although the people of Great Britain, are spending enormous sums, they have made up their mind they are going to pay their debt; and if you observe what is going on in their industries you will find that already, while they are making these tremendous efforts and carrying this tremendous load, they are also at the same time preparing to pay their debt. They are going to do it by making their exports more valuable than their imports, cutting down expenses as much as possible and increasing in every possible way their manufactures. We ought to be doing the same thing. If our exports are not going to be greater than our imports, we are not going to become wealthy as a nation, and we are not going to meet our indebtedness as we ought to do. When you face the problem as to how we can make our exports more important than they are today, you may turn from one industry to another but you will, I think, end up with agriculture, which you will realize is the greatest industry we have in Canada today. Now, are we getting the best out of our efforts in agriculture? Are we making the farmers comfortable? Are we building good roads for them? Are we providing a suitable education for their children? Are we bringing electricity to their doors to facilitate their farming operations? I think we are in a measure, and we will have to continue to do that in order to induce people to come to us and to stay on our farms. But we must adopt measures far more profound and far-reaching if we are going to make any important contribution to the wealth of the-nation through our farming operations. For example, 25 bushels an acre is a very good crop of wheat in this country; but in Belgium and Germany and France, and in beautiful Midlothian, you will see wheat standing almost solid and so thick that it will almost carry a board laid on the top of it. There the farmers get from 40 to 43 bushels per acre. If we could increase our crop to that figure money would roll in for us very readily and easily. Moreover, the thing can be done if we will follow the methods of the Old Country and increase our fertilization of the soil. How are we going to do that? You will find that we will have to use calcium, phosphate, and nitrate salts, for the renewal and enrichment of the soil. How are we going to get them? In Western Alberta we have large deposits of minerals carrying such salts. As yet it does not pay to work them by methods known at present. There is where science comes in; there is a definite problem which scientists can solve; you have merely to state your problem, put your man in the position of solving it and it will be done. We want to utilize every ounce of strength to solve that problem, but we are only now beginning to think of attacking such problems in a methodical and scientific way.
When Germany found its stocks of cotton cut off, and its supplies of nitrates from Chili, they did not say, " We will stop the war! " but they started to get the nitrogen from the air by fixing it with other chemical compounds, and today they are carrying on the war with nitric acid made in factories that have been put up in the last two years. All their original supplies are gone, but their scientific men have come forward and have devised methods for the fixation of nitrogen from the atmosphere, and on that very account they can supply the ammunition needed at the front. The United States realizes that Great Britain is preparing not only for the winning of this war, but for enormously increasing her export trade in order to pay her debt. Anyone reading the Saturday Evening Post of last week would think it was a crime for Britain to do, that, to get ready to pay her debt. The writer of an article in that periodical goes on to say that Great Britain is trying to capture the trade of the world. Nothing of
the kind. Great Britain is out to pay its enormous debt caused through the prosecution of the war; that is the point of view to keep in front of you. When the Americans were asked to prepare for eventualities a short time ago their President showed considerable wisdom by at once asking all the scientific men to come together in the National Academy and form a council to advise him. One of the first things that this body did was to ask for $20,000,000 to make fertilizers. They said that because they knew it would at once make an enormous contribution to the wealth of the country-by increasing the product of the farms; but they did it for another reason-they knew that the process required for making that fertilizer was the very one which would furnish them with supplies of nitric acid for the manufacture of ammunition. They know that in peace time they would have, with the money asked for, factories which would be capable of making quantities of fertilizers which would make their country prosperous and, at the same time, they would have these same factories ready to make nitric acid for ammunition for war in case the nitrate supplies from Chili were cut off by an enemy. Thus, in a practical way they have something to help them in war. How does that affect us? In this way; you will find the Americans will say, "We have $20,000,000 to spend; we have the country behind us; the best way to spend that money to get this fertilizer will be to produce it in the neighbourhood of waterfalls." Thus you will soon see a great movement coming on to utilize every bit of energy produced at Niagara Falls and at the Long Sault in the St. Lawrence; every effort will be made to dam up that water and use it for the production of electric energy. Are you going to be prepared, when the Americans bring that forward, to say, " Very good, you take half and we will take the other half?" What are you going to do with the other half when you get it? Are you going to allow the Americans to come over here and build factories and make fertilizers that they will then take over to the other side to fertilize their own fields? If you, go to Niagara Falls you will find an enormous factory using 30,000 H.P. of the power developed on this side, and with it making fertilizers to enrich the cotton fields of the Southern United States-Prof. Baekeland has brought that out recently in Scribner;,' Magazine, and so I am justified in referring to it her(. ' They are using 30,000 H.P. of your portion of the electrical energy and making fertilizers for their own country while you are begging for power for running your own industries. That is a state of affairs which you have allowed to come to pass. When the enormous development comes that I am predicting, are you going to allow the same thing to go on, or will you be ready-have you enough snap and foresight-to utilize the energy which will be rendered available for you for the development of your own industries? Will you see to it that Canadian capital or British capital, not foreign capital, will be directed towards the utilization of the energy ,which will soon be available for you? You want scientific advice; there you have it and you have it cheaply. See to it at once that the squandering of the resources of our own country ceases. Develop, but develop by yourselves for yourselves. Do not hand over the development to foreign controlled organizations. What a story I could tell you about national
squandering. We are giving away our metals, our nickel, our pulp woods, our timber, to foreign con, trolled organizations. You are greatly surprised these days at our nickel going out of the country, and you are making a great deal of fuss about whether it gets to the German market or not. I do not believe you need worry much about it, because the most effective force to stop it from getting to Germany today is not your legislation, but it is the British Navy--and I know what I am saying. But does it ever occur to you that there is not very much being given to us for the nickel -that is passing right out of your country by the trainload. If you could sell it--if it were yours to sell, what a magnificent contribution it would make to your national treasury ! How it would help you to liquidate your debt. Now we have such things as export duties, and there is a time when export duties count; they count when people will insist on having what you have got to sell. If you have an article that the world must have, and you want money to pay your debts, there is a very effective way--let it go, but as it goes, clap something on top of it which is going to give you something back. That is the advice of a scientific man; that is the way we handle our problems up at the University; we don't worry very much where energy is going, but we get something out of it as it passes by.
My messsage to you today is to urge you to organize your industries on a scientific basis and to co-ordinate in every way your industrial efforts. You must get our Universities into closer touch with your business organizations; you must learn to respect science because if you do not -circumstances will compel you to do it. You must learn that you cannot go on in the same old way your fathers went. This country can become prosperous only by making your industries scientific. You should introduce into your industries every scientific man that is available. Think of what is going on now! In the last seven years I have seen thirteen' or fourteen of my ablest students leave this country for the United States-your sons who took brilliant careers in our Universities; arid who, you were proud to know, had obtained positions in life, but you hang your head in shame when you learn that those positions were in the United States; that is where your sons had to go to make a living. You have a magnificent University up in the City Park, but how many of you gentlemen were ever in the chemical or physical laboratory? How many of you know what it is like inside these buildings? How many of you know what we work at from day to day? You never come there to see; it is an ornament with you as yet; it is not fastened on to your industry. Now, it is a vital organization; it is one of the greatest forces for good you have in your community, and as a scientific man I ask you, I beg of you, to get hold of the spirit of the professors there and infuse that spirit into your industries. The competition outside is so great that you have got to pit the fertility of your brains against those of outside competition. Don't let our best brains go to the United States to build up rival industries there. It is a deplorable state of affairs to have the best Canadian intellects going to that side of the line to be rivals for those that are left behind. But it is all due to your apathy, your lack of love of science and scientific methods.
To be practical, how is this going to work out? I have recommended and others have recommended that the Government should appoint a commission of some kind, or get together the scientific men into some sort of an organization, so that we shall have an official means of correlating all our activities and of finding out just what problems we have to solve, and what men we have in the country able to solve them. I hope that action will be taken very soon that will result in such a commission being organized. Sir George Foster writes me that he hopes to have such a commission in operation before he leaves for England. That means that we are doing something here; it means that we are getting on; but locally we must work out something for ourselves. In the Royal Canadian Institute we have an institution which may be able to help you. On its Board there are a number of members of the scientific staff of the University; there are also representatives from the Board of Trade, the Society of Chemical Industry, and the Manufacturers' Association. We want to make that institute a sort of a club or home of science where we can meet you and talk about the application of scientific principles to your industries. It may be that members of the institute can make suggestions to you which you will find helpful in your work, and no doubt you will be able to make suggestions that will be helpful to them. :We have in the library of the institute about 10,000 volumes, embracing the proceedings of many of the great scientific societies of the world. There is also 'the Reference Library of the city, the University Library, and the Parliamentary Library in close proximity. One of the objects we have in view at the present time is to extend our library so that it will include not only the scientific publications, but also the trade and technical journals of all countries. We hope to receive such financial aid from the manufacturing interests and from the Dominion Government as will enable us to do this very soon. We also intend to take steps to institute an Information Bureau in connection with the institute. I do not know that this is properly one of the functions of a modern university, but it might very well be part of the work of an institution like the-Royal Canadian Institute. Suppose you wanted to find out information about the technique of an industry, the manufacture of a product, where would you go? You would probably send to Mr. Fetherstonhaugh, who is overloaded with his work. Such a bureau as I have indicated should prove of great value to you. We wish also to stimulate the manufacturers in our midst to establish research laboratories in connection with their works. Mr. Little, who is going to address you shortly, will tell you how many great corporations like the General Electric Company, are spending large sums, $200,000 a year for example, on purely research work. Such an expenditure on research these firms find is returned to them tenfold. The Pennsylvania Railway, the United States Steel Corporation, and many others in the United States have established research laboratories in connection with their works, and I believe the Massey-Harris people, the Gutta Percha Rubber Co., the Hamilton Steel Works, and others in Canada are following their example. This should be general all over the country; every large industry should have a research laboratory at its back infusing the research spirit, giving information about technic, improving processes, etc., etc. The cost of carrying on these research laboratories in connection with some industries will sometimes be found so large that national help will have to be given. It works out this way in the Old Country-in the dyeing industry for example, where the problem was so large and the necessary expenditure so great that all the dyeing interests had to get together not only for instructional purposes, but also for financial reasons as well. You will find that the pottery interests, too, have got together in England, and research institutions have been set up by the British Government to assist both of these industries. As for the small manufacturer he can bring his problem to the University for solution. If the University cannot offer the requisite research facilities, some of us are advocating the installation in connection with organizations like Royal Canadian Institute, of laboratories that can take care of the smaller problems. Such laboratories we feel would meet a very pressing need.
These, gentlemen, are a few of the things we are thinking about, and I would ask you to consider whether you cannot spare time to take an interest in this scientific movement. It is the greatest movement that has gone over this country for years. Today you are all very busy manufacturing munitions and other articles used in the prosecution of the war. But what is to become of all the plant you have installed for ammunition-making? You want advice as to how to use that plant after the war is over. If the Commission on Industrial Research to which I have alluded were instituted, one of the first steps it would take would be to make a census of all the plants in this country and send out information telling those interested how they could turn their machines and instruments into making things required in the time of peace. These are the things we have to think about. It is not enough for professors in universities to think about these things or to say what an idealized world this should be. In a democratic country like this it is for you people to take the lead, and you will find the scientific men ready to help you. There must be cooperation and mutual confidence in handling the problem before us. It is a worthy problem, and one we must face if we are going to meet the appalling debt that is being heaped up because of the prosecution of the war.
Sir Melvin Jones moved a vote of thanks to the speaker, which was carried.