Skip to content

About the Dragon Banner Image:
ONE OF NINE DRAGONS PAINTED BY CHEN RONG 陳容 IN 1244.

Chen Rong (陳容, with the artist name Suoweng 所翁) lived from 1200 to 1266 during the Southern Song Dynasty. He was a famous Taoist painter, who could have lived in ease and celebrity as an Imperial Painter. Chen Rong was too wild to do so. He was most noted for his paintings of dragons, which he had personally seen perhaps while drunk.

Theodore fell in love with the Nine Dragons Scroll at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston before he was five. Over many years he visited it often. You can see the whole wonderful scroll here by using the scroll bar at the bottom.

After doing so, can you doubt that Chen Rong had really seen these wonderful, good-hearted animal which embody the wildest, most elemental powers of nature?

Aside

Paul Olum was another friend who was among the smartest people on the planet. He was Provost and then President of the University of Oregon. In the latter position we joked that he was my boss as President and I was his as Head of the Department of Mathematics. He was an incredible leader.  When he told a faculty me meeting that we would get NO raises but explained what an important and honorable profession we were in, we all stood and applauded.  He could also easily and informally get along with anyone. He and his wife were also outstandingly moral people.

Again I plagiarize from Wikipedia (one of my greatest friends):

Born in Binghamton, New York to a father who was a Russian Jew who immigrated at age of nine to escape persecution, Olum took an interest in mathematics at an early age. He graduated summa cum laude from Harvard University in 1940. In 1942 he married Vivian Goldstein, completed an MA in physics at Princeton University, and joined the scientific staff of the Manhattan Project. During his time at Los Alamos, Olum was among the Los Alamos scientists who questioned the implications of the atomic bomb, and after its use against Japan, he became a lifelong advocate for world peace and for nuclear arms control.[1][2]

Reportedly, one reason he switched from Physics to Mathematics as his field was that compared to his office mate, future Nobel laureate Richard Feynman, Olum did not think he was good at Physics.[3] He returned to Harvard after the war to complete his PhD in Mathematics in 1947 under Hassler Whitney as his thesis advisor. Among his close friends was Feynman, who wrote in his autobiography of Paul’s intelligence. In one anecdote, Feynman told of an experience at Los Alamos when he had claimed to be able to take any problem that could be stated in ten seconds and find an answer to within ten percent in no more than sixty seconds. When Feynman made this challenge to Olum, he quickly responded, “Find the tangent of 10 to the 100th.”

“Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman” is a wonderfully interesting book, but one of its purposes was to show how much smarter Richard Feynman (whom I never knew) was than just about everyone else.  Paul is the only person in the book who is treated as an equal or superior intellect.

Aside

I have been privileged to know some of the smartest humans who overlapped my life. The very smartest of them all was Andrew (Andy) Mattei Gleason.  He was not only a great mathematician, but his mind was incredibly fast and stored with a huge amount of information on all subjects.  This made him a very valuable consultant to all kinds of companies.  Raoul Bott (another amazingly smart man) was hired by the Harvard Department of Mathematics the year before I started graduate school.  He insisted that there had to be a commons room for graduate students and faculty.  Go became the game of choice there.  Andy could walk through the commons room without paying special attention to the go game in progress and then say what would be the best next couple of moves for both sides in this very complicated game!  He was always friendly to me.

Here I have just plagiarized from Wikipedia.

Andrew Mattei Gleason (November 4, 1921 – October 17, 2008) was an American mathematician who as a young World War II naval officer broke German and Japanese military codes, then over the succeeding sixty years made fundamental contributions to widely varied areas of mathematics, including the solution of Hilbert’s fifth problem, and was a leader in reform and innovation in math­e­mat­ics teaching at all levels.[3][4] His entire academic career was at Harvard, from which he retired in 1992 as the Hollis Professor of Mathematics and Natural Philosophy. Gleason’s theorem and the Greenwood–Gleason graph are named for him.

Gleason’s numerous academic and scholarly leadership posts included chairmanship of the Harvard Mathematics Department[5] and Harvard Society of Fellows, and presidency of the American Mathematical Society. He continued to advise the United States government on cryptographic security, and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts on math­e­mat­ics education for children, almost until the end of his life. The Notices of the American Mathematical Society called him “one of the quiet giants of twentieth-century mathematics, the consummate professor dedicated to scholarship, teaching, and service in equal measure.”[6]

He was fond of saying that math­e­mat­ic­al proofs “really aren’t there to convince you that something is true—they’re there to show you why it is true.”[7]

 

Another good friend of strikingly superior intelligence was Edward (Ed) U. Condon. I was best man at his son’s wedding and got to know him that way. Since I loved mountain climbing in Colorado and since he and his wife Emilie lived in a big house in Boulder in which they liked to have guests, I stayed with them on many occasions.

Ed was incredibly lucky to receive a National Research Council fellowship to study at Goettingen and Munich just when modern quantum mechanics was being developed. He was the first American to return with an up-to-date knowledge of this incredibly fast moving field and was thus the conduit by which American physicists anxious to learn about the subject first got their information. 

He is perhaps now best remembered for several things outside his research. Several are amusing. 

During the McCarthy period, when efforts were being made to root out communist sympathizers in the United States, he was a target of Richard Nixon and the House Un-American Activities Committee on the grounds that he was a ‘follower’ of a ‘new revolutionary movement’, quantum mechanics. He defended himself with a famous commitment to physics and science. 

It was probably his wife Emilie Honzik Condon who first got him in trouble. She was proud of her ability to speak most of the East European languages. As the wife of the Director of the National Bureau of Standards, she was invited to diplomatic parties in Washington D. C. Made voluble by the free flowing alcohol, she chatted with all the communist diplomatic delegates often in languages that the FBI agents did not understand. Very suspicious!

This ordeal gave of the HUAC hearing him sympathy for other targets of HUAC, and that gave me the opportunity for one of my best pranks. Through, my wife Laramie I had gotten to know the wonderful couple Frank (Dank) and Mary Folsom who are best remembered as prolific authors (often under pseudonyms) of children’s books many dealing with science. Frank was also head of the Communist party USA authors section. At the time of this incident they were retired and living in a beautiful modern log cabin on the edge of a cliff high above Boulder. (Folsom Stadium at Colorado University in Boulder was named for Dank’s father who had been the football coach there.) Ed was friends with Robert Openheimer and his younger brother Frank and during the summer while I was staying at his house Frank was scheduled to make a visit. Frank had been a member of CPUSA at a time when this was a sort of romantic thing to do. Party members imitated Russian party members by taking the name of a prison as their party last name. (In Russia this was the first prison in which they had been incarcerated.) So Frank Oppenheimer was a second Frank Folsom in the CPUSA. HUAC and the FBI totally misunderstood nearly everything about CPUSA, so they became TOTALLY confused by two Frank Folsoms, leading to much confusion in hearings. Without giving either one advanced notice I invited the real Frank Folsom to meet the fake one. When I introduced them, they were (not surprisingly) very wary of each other. Later in the evening they found a quiet place and had a long talk.

Robert Oppenheimer had wanted Ed Condon as second in scientific command (General Leslie Groves was in full non-scientific control) at Los Alamos where the atomic bomb was developed. Ed visited but could not stand Groves and was deeply disturbed by the secrecy that even divided people within the scientific faculty, so he worked on radar instead. (As a Quaker this was more comfortable.)

Richard Nixon and HUAC were interested in Ed because President Truman had appointed him Director of the National Bureau of Sciences. A post of Presidential Science Advisers was established much later and the director of NBS acted in this capacity for Truman. President Truman and Ed got along extremely well, despite their quite different backgrounds.
Since Ed was known for bluntly speaking his mind, when a public craze about Unidentified Flying Objects (UFOs) seemed to be getting out of hand, In the late 60s the Air Force appointed him to lead a panel of experts and write a report. I was staying at his house during part of this time and he had lots of funny stories. After widely reported incidents he would call up all those who had talked to the press and say that he would be there as soon as possible to investigate. On a number of occasions these widely quoted sources would deny having heard anything about the incident. There was almost never any physical evidence in the reports, so he was very interested when a stain on beach sand was reported to be from the exhaust of the UFO’s take-off engine. It turned out to be male human urine. (Too bad modern genetics was not available. Perhaps a shed cell could have identified the source.)

Here is a bit more plagiarism from Wikipedia. (I use this source many times a day to get proper dates and spellings of names for my memories, so I am also a financial supporter. I encourage you to do likewise if Wikipedia is important to you.):

Edward Uhler Condon (March 2, 1902 – March 26, 1974) was a distinguished American nuclear physicist, a pioneer in quantum mechanics, and a participant in the development of radar and nuclear weapons during World War II as part of the Manhattan Project.[1] The Franck–Condon principle and the Slater–Condon rules are named after him.
He was the director of the National Bureau of Standards (now NIST) from 1945 to 1951. In 1946, Condon was president of the American Physical Society, and in 1953 was president of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

This article goes on to point out that Ed was born in New Mexico because his father was an engineer building narrow gauge railroads there and in Colorado (another interest of mine.)

Chemical elements

What is the only element named for a woman?

 Meitnerium, Element 109

 

I am plagiarizing from Wikipedia with omissions and slight editing.

Lise Meitner, (7 November 1878 – 27 October 1968) was an Austrian, later Swedish, physicist who worked on radioactivity and nuclear physics.  Meitner was part of the team that discovered nuclear fission, an achievement for which her colleague Otto Hahn was awarded the Nobel Prize. Meitner is often mentioned as one of the most glaring examples of women’s scientific achievement overlooked by the Nobel committee.   She was born Jewish but converted to Christianity at age 30.

 

Women were not allowed to attend institutions of higher education in those days, but thanks to support from her parents, she was able to obtain private higher education. Inspired by her teacher, physicist Ludwig Boltzmann, Meitner studied physics and became the second woman to obtain a doctoral degree in physics at the University of Vienna in 1905.

Encouraged by her father and backed by his financial support, she went to Berlin. Max Planck allowed her to attend his lectures, an unusual gesture by Planck, who until then had rejected any women wanting to attend his lectures. After one year, Meitner became Planck’s assistant. During the first years she worked together with chemist Otto Hahn and discovered with him several new isotopes. In 1909 she presented two papers on beta-radiation.

In the first part of World War I, she served as a nurse handling X-ray equipment. She returned to Berlin and her research in 1916, but not without inner struggle. She felt in a way ashamed of wanting to continue her research efforts when thinking about the pain and suffering of the victims of war and their medical and emotional needs.

After Adolf Hitler came to power in 1933, Meitner stayed too long in Germany.  The Anschluss removed the protection of her Austrian citizenship.  In July 1938, Meitner escaped to the Netherlands. She was forced to travel under cover to the Dutch border.  She reached safety without her possessions. Meitner later said that she left Germany forever with 10 marks in her purse. Before she left, Otto Hahn had given her a diamond  ring he had inherited from his mother: this was to be used to bribe the frontier guards if required. It was not required, and Meitner’s nephew’s wife later wore it.

She was involved in the pursuit of discovering new elements, which led to nuclear fission. She and her nephew Otto Frisch first explained how uranium hit by a neutron could split into barium and krypton.  She was the first to understand that Einstein’s equation   E = mc2 explained the enormous release of energy.  She also realized the possibility of a chain reaction leading to the release of enormous energy.  Many physicists then understood that a bomb could likely be produced this way and the whole area of research suddenly became secret.

She lived in Great Britain towards the end of her life and received many honors particularly in the United Sates of America.

 

Element 114.

In 1949 at age 13 I went with my family on a trip throughout the western United States visiting most of the National Parks.  We camped almost every night and this was long before organized campgrounds were established.

I was already very interested in chemistry, so I set myself the task of learning to recite the list of chemical elements—sort of like learning the alphabet.  Between evening chores and going to bed I had learned them all about halfway through the trip.  It was a little easier then because I believe only 97 elements were known.

I have become rusty in my old age.  Cardiac rehab is giving me time to memorize the list again along with trying to re-learn as much Mandarin (reading, writing and speaking) as possible.

The only named element which is new to me is Flerovium (114).  The story of its name is amusing.  It was discovered in a laboratory in Dubna named for Georgy Flerov and those who discovered it quite naturally wanted to name it for him.  However the IUPAC named it for the laboratory instead.  Most likely this is due to the fact that Flerov wrote Stalin in 1942 noting that a sudden silence had fallen over research on nuclear fission around the world.  He deduced correctly that this meant that several countries were trying to build an atomic bomb.

Michaux 1810 ParisMichaux 1810 ParisMichaux 1810 ParisMichaux 1810 ParisMichaux 1810 ParisMichaux 1810 ParisMichaux 1810 ParisMichaux 1810 ParisMichaux 1810 ParisMichaux 1810 ParisMichaux 1810 Paris

Image

michaux-1810-paris2.jpg

Top signed autograph inscription is by the author: “Exemplaire reserve par l’Auteur. F Andre-Michaux 11 Decembre, 1817.” = “This copy is the property of the author.” Michaux was in Philadelphia arranging for the first American edition of this book on that date.

The second one is by the noted book collector Robert C[harles] Winthrop (1809/05/12 – 1894/11/16; Speaker of the U. S. House of Representatives, U.S. Senator, Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, President of the Massachusetts Historical Society) dated 1841, the year of his father’s death. With the autograph latin inscription “e libris patris” (“from my father’s library”). His father, Thomas Lindall Winthrop (1760/10/23 – 1841/02/22) died that year. (He graduated from Harvard in 1828, so writing in Latin Was perfectly natural.)

Image

michaux-1810-paris1.jpg

Image

Title page Paris 1810 first volume of first edition

Title page Paris 1810 first volume of first edition

Michaux’ book

I have just been photographing one of my most beautiful books. It is the first Paris 1810,1812,1813 edition of François André Michaux (16 August 1770 – 23 October 1855) book “HISTOIRE | DES ARBREES FORESTIERS | DE | L’AMERIQUE SEPTENTRIONALE. | CONSIDERES PRINCIPALMENT | SOUS LES RAPPORTS DE LEUR USAGE DANS LES ARTS | ET DE LEUR INTRODUCTION DANS LE COMMERCE, | AINSI QUE D’APRES LES AVANTAGES QU’ILS PEUVENT OFFRIR AUX GOVERNEMENSEN EUROPE | ET AUX PERSONNESQUI VEULENT FORMER DE GRANDESPLANTATIONS. | PAR Fs. ANDRE-MICHAUX, | Membre de le Societe Philosophique americaine de Philadelphia; des Societes | d’Agriculture de meme ville, de celles de Charleston, Caroline meridionale; | dHollowell, District de Maine; de department de le Seine, et de Seine- | et Oise. [rule] …arbore sulcamusmaria, terrasque admovemus, | arbore exaedificamus tecta. | PLINI SECUNDI: Nat. Hist., lib. XII. [rule] TOME [I. / II. / III.] | PARIS. | DE L’IMPRIMERIE DE L. HAUSSMANN ET D’HAUTEL. [rule] [M. D. CCC. X. / M. D. CCC. XII. / M. D. CCC. XIII. / , [ 1810 / 1812 / 1813 ]” It is the first discussion of American trees with color illustrations. In particular it has 138 superb illustrations with engraved outlines filled with color and then hand painted. I wanted to choose four illustrations but after discarding MANY I ended up with 18. Here are a few:

I can’t figure out how to post some of my many pictures. Go to my Facebook page for a few: https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100001241338265

Aside

I am slowly getting some of my 5,500 rare, scholarly, and more common books on the scientific exploration of the American West ready for listing for sale on the web.  I just came to my copy of Volume X of X  REPORTS OF EXPLORATIONS AND SURVEYS, TO ASCERTAIN THE MOST PRACTICABLE AND ECONOMICAL ROUTE FOR A RAILROAD FROM THE MISSISSIPPI RIVER TO THE PACIFIC OCEAN, 1857.  The binding of my copy has disintegrated because even 50 years ago when I bought it hardly any copies had all of the beautiful colored pictures of birds present.  Despite the deplorable condition of its binding, my copy has every single page and plate intact.  I thought I would share a few of these pictures. Color lithography (chromolithography) was less than a decade old in the US when these plates were produced, but none of the colors have faded at all, as I believe you will agree.

 

Image

 

 

Image

Image

 

Image

 

Volume X is all about zoology and has a total of about 130 plates of different kinds of animals but only about 26 are in full color.