Formicid and other adventures

Shapley's seven-year tenure at Mount Wilson Observatory saw the publication of about 80 papers in his name as author or coauthor. Most of these, of course, concerned variable stars, his cluster studies, or topics relating to the theory of island universes. But even in this most intense period of research in his career, Shapley could not confine his intellectual activity to his primary topic of star clusters. He lent his advice and support to other projects at the observatory, such as an effort to measure the radius of the star Betelgeuse in Orion using the technique of interferometry. He discovered an asteroid, which he named after his daughter—it is number 878 Mildred. Perhaps the only activity on the mountaintop that Shapley stayed away from was the readying of the 100-inch telescope, which saw ''first light'' in 1917. He was, however, one of the first to use the telescope when it was finally ready.

And Shapley had energy to spare. At Missouri he had delved into classics and poetry, and at Princeton he had audited courses in physiology and paleontology. At Mount Wilson he made a hobby of myrmecology, the study of ants. Shapley liked to refer to his ''formicid episodes,'' using the Latin for ''ant.''

While resting from a climb up a canyon near the observatory one day he noticed a line of ants running busily to and fro along a concrete wall. ''I had not been interested scientifically in ants up to that time,'' he wrote in his memoir, ''but I noticed that when the ants went into the shade of the manzanita bushes, they slowed down—just as I would have done. It was cool and nice, and I supposed that they slowed down for comfort. I began to wonder about this, however, and soon I got a thermometer and a barometer and a hydrometer and all those 'ometers' and a stop watch. I set up a sort of observing station while resting and getting ready for another night's tussle with the globular clusters. With a flashlight I followed those ants in the dark, I found it great fun to watch them.''39

Shapley set up ''speed traps'' for the ants and found that they ran quicker when the temperatures were higher. He had discovered the ''thermokinetics'' of ants. His quantitative experiments resulted in several myrmecology papers that the publishing arm of the National Academy of Sciences and other journals saw fit to publish, beginning in 1920. Shapley maintained a lifelong interest in ants and collected them around the world on his travels.

In 1920, Hale, who was in California between trips to the East Coast, invited Shapley to participate in a venture that would draw on his experience both as a journalist and as a scientist. The millionaire newspaper publisher Edward W Scripps, who had founded the independent news gathering company United Press (later United Press International), had a plan to form a service that would supply science news and features to the nation's daily newspapers. Hale, Shapley, and other prominent scientists representing the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the National Research Council, the American Academy of Science, and other professional organizations assembled at Scripps's coastal ranch, Miramar, near San Diego. The outcome of the meeting was the formation of Science News Service, later called Science Service. Science Service published what is now known as Science News, a weekly news magazine, sponsored science fairs, and conducted a science talent search among high school students. Shapley served on the board of Science Service and later also as president.

Shapley's outside interests, his liberal politics, and his bold speculations on astronomical matters probably contributed to the friction that developed between him and an astronomer of an entirely different disposition who arrived in Pasadena in 1919. This was Edwin Hubble-''Major'' Hubble, freshly returned from military service. Shapley found him unapproachable right from the start. ''He was born in Missouri not far from where I was born and he knew the Missourian tongue,'' Shapley wrote in his memoir. ''But he spoke 'Oxford.' He would use such phrases as 'to come a cropper.' ''40 While at Mount Wilson, the two doubtless avoided each other as much as possible. The days when their astronomical fortunes would intersect were still some years in the future.

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