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DEAN ALFRED E. BURTON

BY ARTHUR G. ROBBINS, '98

Professor of Topographical Engineering, M. I. T.

THE withdrawal of Dean Burton removes from active participation in Institute affairs one who has done much to formulate the work, and influence the character of the student life and activities for nearly forty years.

Dean Burton came to the Institute in 1882 as instructor in topographical engineering, a work for which he was specially fitted by temperament, by education and by training.

Endowed by nature with an artistic temperament most essential in the representation of topographic forms, trained at Bowdoin College by Prof. George L. Vose, one of the early and justly famous teachers of engineering and surveying, he then served an apprenticeship of three years in the employ of the United States Coast and Geodetic Survey, where, for a time, he was under the guidance of Mr. Edward Hergesheimer, one of the most skilled topographers connected with the Survey.

The year 1882 was a time of comparatively small things at the Institute. Then the whole student body numbered considerably less than four hundred. Instruction in Civil Engineering was given to the forty students in the department by three teachers, Prof. George L. Vose, who had the year before been made the head of the department; Prof. George F. Swain, and the subject of this sketch, Alfred E. Burton.

For the next twenty years, up to the time of his appointment as dean, Professor Burton had charge of the instruction in plane and topographic surveying, topographical drawing, and geodesy. In addition to this work for a number of years, he assisted in first year drawing. For a time also he taught advanced geometrical drawing to students of the Civil Engineering Department.

When the geodetic option was established, he took entire charge of the instruction in the advanced surveying and geodesy given in that course and did much to broaden and improve the courses of instruction in that branch of science.

It was while giving these courses that a number of improvements in the methods of measuring base lines with long steel tapes were made under his direction, notably a method of determining the temperature of the tape by measuring its electrical resistance. By this method, the error in length, due to uncertainty of the temperature correction, was so much reduced as to be practically negligible.

Professor Burton originated and organized the summer course in topographic and geodetic surveying, and, for a number of years, took personal charge of the instruction in that course. In this way it was

possible to give much more thorough and practical instruction in the various field methods of mapping topographic details. His map of Mt. Moosilauke, made for the Appalachian Mountain Club, in co-operation with a few Institute students; that of the Sargent Estate in Brookline; and a map of the region about Keeseville, N. Y., to mention only three, are models of their kind in accuracy of detail and excellence of representation.

In the summer of 1894, Professor Burton was employed by a number of citizens of Boston, who were then opposing the construction of the Charles River Basin, to investigate and report on the Alster Basin at Hamburg, Germany. Little did he then realize that the construction of that basin was a forward step in making practical the site upon which the New Technology now stands.

When Lieut. Robert E. Peary, a college mate and lifelong friend of Professor Burton, was organizing an expedition to Greenland for the purpose of bringing to the United States the great Cape York meteorite, he asked his old friend and companion of college days to organize a party for the purpose of making some scientific investigations which could best be made in that glacier-covered region.

The opportunity was eagerly accepted, and a party organized with the primary object of making geodetic, magnetic and geological studies. Through the efforts of Professor Burton, the Superintendent of the United States Coast and Geodetic Survey detailed an observer, and loaned the necessary instruments to make pendulum observations to determine the force of gravity. Observations of this character made at widely different places on the earth's surface furnish a means of determining the shape of the earth. Up to this time, few if any observations of this character had been made at so great a distance from the equator. These observations, taken in connection with others made a few years later by members of another expedition to Sumatra, also organized by Professor Burton, made a valuable addition to the data available for studying the shape of the earth.

Prof. George H. Barton, at that time a member of the Geological Department of the Institute, was able to gather valuable data regarding the influence of ice and streams of water in shaping geologic forms. In addition to this work, observations were made to determine the magnetic declination and dip at various stations on the Greenland and Labrador Coasts.

The total eclipse of the sun on May 28, 1900, was the first that had been visible from points near the Atlantic Coast since 1869. Astronomers and educators, generally, were anxious to observe this most interesting phenomenon.

Through the influence of Professor Burton, the Corporation of the Institute, in the fall of 1899, appropriated a sum of money to enable him to organize a small party to make observations during the time of totality. Washington, Ga., was selected as a place favorable for observation, because of its accessibility, its proximity to the center line of totality and because of its probable freedom from clouds at that season

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