Amazing articles on just about every subject...


On Radiant Heat In Relation To The Color And Chemical Constitution Of Bodies

( Originally Published 1905 )



ONE of the most important functions of physical science, considered as a discipline of the mind, is to enable us by means of the sensible processes of Nature to apprehend the insensible. The sensible processes give direction to the line of thought; but this once given, the length of the line is not limited by the boundaries of the senses. Indeed, the domain of the senses, in Nature, is almost infinitely small in comparison with the vast region accessible to thought which lies beyond them. From a few observations of a comet, when it comes within the range of his telescope, an astronomer can calculate its path in regions which no telescope can reach: and in like manner, by means of data furnished in the narrow world of the senses, we make ourselves at home in other and wider worlds, which are traversed by the intellect alone.

From the earliest ages the questions, "What is light?" and "What is heat?" have occurred to the minds of men; but these questions never would have been answered had they not been preceded by the question, "What is sound ?" Amid the grosser phenomena of acoustics the mind was first disciplined, conceptions being thus obtained from direct

A discourse delivered in the Royal Institution of Great Britain, January 19, 1866. observation, which were afterward applied to phenomena of a character far too subtle to be observed directly. Sound we know to be due to vibratory motion. A vibrating tuning-fork, for example, molds the air around it into undulations or waves, which speed away on. all sides with a certain measured velocity, impinge upon the drum of the ear, shake the auditory nerve, and awake in the brain the sensation of sound. When sufficiently near a sounding body we can feel the vibrations of the air. A deaf man, for ex-ample, plunging his hand into a bell when it is sounded, feels through the common nerves of his body those tremors which, when imparted to the nerves of healthy ears, are translated into sound. There are various ways of rendering those sonorous vibrations not only tangible, but visible; and it was not until numberless experiments of this kind had been executed that the scientific investigator abandoned himself wholly, and without a shadow of misgiving, to the conviction that what is sound within us is, outside of us, a motion of the air.

But once having established this fact—once having proved, beyond all doubt, that the sensation of sound is produced by an agitation of the auditory nerve—the thought soon suggested itself that light might be due to an agitation of the optic nerve. This was a great step in advance of that ancient notion which regarded light as something emitted by the eye, and not as anything imparted to it. But if light be produced by an agitation of the retina, what is it that produces the agitation? Newton, you know, supposed minute particles to be shot through the humors of the eye against the retina, which he supposed to hang like a target at the back of the eye. The impact of these particles against the target, Newton believed to be the cause of light. But Newton's notion has not held its ground, being entirely driven from the field by the more wonderful and far more philosophical notion that light, like sound, is a product of wave-motion.

The domain in which this motion of light is carried on lies entirely beyond the reach of our senses. The waves of light require a medium for their formation and propagation; but we cannot see, or feel, or taste, or smell this medium. How, then, has its existence been established? By showing that, by the assumption of this wonderful in-tangible ether, all the phenomena of optics are accounted for, with a fulness, and clearness, and conclusiveness, which leave no desire of the intellect unsatisfied. When the law of gravitation first suggested itself to the mind of Newton, what did he do? He set himself to examine whether it accounted for all the facts. He determined the courses of the planets; he calculated the rapidity of the moon's fall toward the earth; he considered the precession of the equinoxes, the ebb and flow of the tides, and found all explained by the law of gravitation. He therefore regarded this law as established, and the verdict of science subsequently confirmed his conclusion. On similar, and, if possible, on stronger grounds, we found our belief, in the existence of the universal ether. It explains facts far more various and complicated than those on which Newton based his law. If a single phenomenon could be pointed out which the ether is proved incompetent to explain, we should have to give it up; but no such phenomenon has ever been pointed out. It is, therefore, at least as certain that space is filled with a medium, by means of which suns and stars diffuse their radiant power, as that it is traversed by that force which holds in its grasp, not only our planetary system, but the immeasurable heavens themselves.

There is no more wonderful instance than this of the production of a line of thought, from the world of the senses into the region of pure imagination. I mean by imagination here, not that play of fancy which can give to airy nothings a local habitation and a name, but that power which enables the mind to conceive realities which lie beyond the range of the senses—to present to itself-distinct images of processes which, though mighty in the aggregate beyond all conception', are so minute individually as to elude all observation. It is the waves of air excited by a tuning-fork which render its vibrations audible. It is the waves of ether sent forth from those lamps overhead which render them luminous to us; but so minute are these waves, that it would take from 30,000 to 60,000 of them, placed end to end; to cover a single inch. Their number, however, compensates for their minuteness. Trillions of them have entered your eyes, and hit the retina at the backs of your eyes, in the time consumed in the utterance of the shortest sentence of this discourse. This is the steadfast result of modern research; but we never could have reached it without previous discipline. We never could have measured the waves of light, nor even imagined them to exist, had we not previously exercised ourselves among the waves of sound. Sound and light are now mutually helpful, the conceptions of each being expanded, strengthened, and defined by the conceptions of the other.

The ether which conveys the pulses of light and heat not only fills celestial space, swathing suns, and planets, and moons, but it also encircles the atoms of which these bodies are composed. It is the motion of these atoms, and not that of any sensible parts of bodies, that the ether conveys. This motion is the objective cause of what, in our sensations, are light and heat. An atom, then, sending its pulses through the ether, resembles a tuning-fork sending its pulses through the air. Let us look for a moment at this thrilling medium, and briefly consider its relation to the bodies whose vibrations it conveys. Different bodies, when heated to the same temperature, possess very different powers of agitating the ether: some are good radiators, others are bad radiators; which means that some are so constituted as to communicate their atomic motion freely to the ether, producing therein powerful undulations; while the atoms of others are unable thus to communicate their motions, but glide through the medium without materially disturbing its repose. Recent experiments have proved that elementary bodies, except under certain anomalous conditions, belong to the class of bad radiators. An atom, vibrating in the ether, resembles a naked tuning-fork vibrating in the air. The amount of motion communicated to the air by the thin prongs is too small to evoke at any distance the sensation of sound. But if we permit the atoms to combine chemically and form molecules, the result, in many cases, is an enormous change in the power of radiation. The amount of ethereal disturbance, produced by the combined atoms of a body, may be many thousand times that produced by the same atoms when uncombined.

The pitch of a musical note depends upon the rapidity of its vibrations, or, in other words, on the length of its waves. Now, the pitch of a note answers to the color of light. Taking a slice of white light from the sun, or from an electric lamp, and causing the light to pass through an arrangement of prisms, it is decomposed. We have the effect obtained by Newton, who first unrolled the solar beam into the splendors of the solar spectrum. At one end of this spectrum we have red light, at the other, violet; and between those extremes lie the other prismatic colors. As we advance along the spectrum from the red to the violet, the pitch of the light—if I may use the expression—heightens, the sensation of violet being produced by a more rapid succession of impulses than that which produces the impression of red. The vibrations of the violet are about twice as rapid as those of the red; in other words, the range of the visible spectrum is about an octave.

There is no solution of continuity in this spectrum; one color changes into another by insensible gradations. It is as if an infinite number of tuning-forks, of gradually augmenting pitch, were vibrating at the same time. But turning to another spectrum—that, namely, obtained from the incandescent vapor of silver—you observe that it consists of two narrow and intensely luminous green bands. Here it is as if two forks only, of slightly different pitch, were vibrating. The length of the waves which produce this first band is such that 47,460 of them, placed end to end, would fill an inch. The waves which produce the second band are a little shorter; it would take of these 47,920 to fill an inch. In the case of the first band, the number of impulses imparted, in one second, to every eye which sees it, is 577 millions of millions; while the number of impulses imparted, in the same time, by the second band, is 600 millions of millions. We may project upon a white screen the beautiful stream of green light from which these bands were derived. This luminous stream is the incandescent vapor of silver. The rates of vibration of the atoms of that vapor are as rigidly fixed as those of two tuning-forks; and to whatever height the temperature of the vapor may be raised, the rapidity of its vibrations, and consequently its color, which wholly depends upon that rapidity, remain unchanged.

The vapor of water, as well as the vapor of silver, has its definite periods of vibration, and these are such as to disqualify the vapor, when acting freely as such, from being raised to a white heat. The oxyhydrogen flame, for example, consists of hot aqueous vapor. It is scarcely visible in the air of this room, and it would be still less visible if we could burn the gas in a clean atmosphere. But the atmosphere, even at the summit of Mont Blanc, is dirty; in London it is more than dirty; and the burning dirt gives to this flame the greater portion of its present light. But the heat of the flame is enormous. Cast iron fuses at a temperature of 2,000° Fahr. ; while the temperature of the oxyhydrogen flame is 6,000° Fahr. A piece of platinum is heated to vivid redness, at a distance of two inches beyond the visible termination of the flame. The vapor which produces incandescence is here absolutely dark. In the flame itself the platinum is raised to dazzling whiteness, and is even pierced by the flame. When this flame impinges on a piece of lime we have the dazzling Drummond light. But the light is here due to the fact that when it impinges upon the solid body, the vibrations excited in that body by the flame are of periods different from its own.

Thus far we have fixed our attention on atoms and molecules in a state of vibration, and surrounded by a medium which accepts their vibrations, and transmits them through space. But suppose the waves generated by one system of molecules to impinge upon another system, how will the waves be affected ? Will they be stopped, or will they be permitted to pass? Will they transfer their motion to the molecules on which they impinge; or will they glide round the molecules, through the intermolecular spaces, and thus escape?

The answer to this question depends upon a condition which may be beautifully exemplified by an experiment on sound. These two tuning-forks are tuned absolutely alike. They vibrate with the same rapidity, and, mounted thus upon their resonant cases, you hear them loudly sounding the same musical note. Stopping one of the forks, I throw the other into strong vibration, and bring that other near the silent fork, but not into, contact with it. Allowing them to continue in this position for four or five seconds, and then stopping the vibrating fork, the sound does not cease. The second fork has taken up the vibrations of its neighbor, and is now sounding in its turn. Dismounting one of the forks, and permitting the other to remain upon its stand, I throw the dismounted fork into strong vibration. You cannot hear it sound. Detached from its case, the amount of motion which it can communicate to the air is too small to be sensible at any distance. When the dismounted fork is brought close to the mounted one, but not into actual contact with it, out of the silence rises a mellow sound. Whence comes it? From the vibrations which have been transferred from the dismounted fork to the mounted one.

That the motion should thus transfer itself through the air it is necessary that the two forks should be in perfect unison. If a morsel of wax, not larger than a pea, be placed on one of the forks, it is rendered thereby power-less to affect, or to be affected by, the other. It is easy to understand this experiment. The pulses of the one fork can affect the other, because they are perfectly timed. A single pulse causes the prong of the silent fork to vibrate through an infinitesimal space. But just as it has completed this small vibration, another pulse is ready to strike it. Thus, the impulses add themselves together. In the five seconds during which the forks were held near each other, the vibrating fork sent 1,280 waves against its neighbor, and those 1,280 shocks, all delivered at the proper moment, all, as I have said, perfectly timed, have given such strength to the vibrations of the mounted fork as to render them audible to all.

Another curious illustration of the influence of synchronism on musical vibrations, is this: Three small gas-flames are inserted into three glass tubes of different lengths. Each of these flames can be caused to emit a musical note, the pitch of which is determined by the length of the tube surrounding the flame. The shorter the tube the higher is the pitch. The flames are now silent within their respective tubes, but each of them can be caused to respond to a proper note sounded anywhere in this room. With an instrument called a syren, a powerful musical note, of gradually increasing pitch, can be produced. Beginning with a low note, and ascending gradually to a higher one, we finally attain the pitch of the flame in the longest tube. The moment it is reached, the flame bursts into song. The other flames are still silent within their tubes. But, by urging the instrument on to higher notes, the second flame is started, and the third alone remains. A still higher note starts it also. Thus, as the sound of the syren rises gradually in pitch, it awakens every flame in passing, by striking it with a series of waves whose periods of recurrence are similar to its own.

Now the wave-motion from the syren is in part taken up by the flame which synchronizes with the waves; and were these waves to impinge upon a multitude of flames, instead of upon one flame only, the transference might be so great as to absorb the whole of the original wave-motion. Let us apply these facts to radiant heat. This blue flame is the flame of carbonic oxide; this transparent gas is carbonic acid gas. In the blue flame we have carbonic acid intensely heated, or, in other words, in a state of in-tense vibration. It thus resembles the sounding fork, while this cold carbonic acid resembles the silent one. What is the consequence? Through :the synchronism of the hot and cold gas, the waves emitted by the former are intercepted by the latter, the transmission of the radiant heat being thus prevented. The cold gas is intensely opaque to the radiation from this particular flame, though highly transparent to heat of every other kind. We are here manifestly dealing with that great principle which lies at the basis of spectrum analysis, and which has enabled scientific men to determine the substances of which the sun, the stars, and even the nebulae, are composed; the principle, namely, that a body which is competent to emit any ray, whether of heat or light, is competent in the same degree to absorb that ray. The absorption depends on the synchronism existing between the vibrations of the atoms from which the rays, or more correctly the waves, issue, and those of the atoms on which they impinge.

To its almost total incompetence to emit white light, aqueous vapor adds a similar incompetence to absorb white light. It cannot, for example, absorb the luminous rays of the sun, though it can absorb the non-luminous rays of the earth. This incompetence of the vapor to absorb luminous rays is shared by water and ice—in fact, by all really transparent substances. Their transparency is due to their inability to absorb luminous rays. The molecules of such substances are in dissonance with the luminous waves; and hence such waves pass through transparent bodies without disturbing the molecular rest. A purely luminous beam, however intense 'hay be its heat, is sensibly incompetent to melt ice. We can, for example, converge a powerful luminous beam upon a surface covered with hoar frost, without melting a single spicula of the crystals. How then, it may be asked, are the snows of the Alps swept away by the sunshine of summer? I answer, they are not swept away by sunshine at all, but by rays which have no sunshine whatever in them. The luminous rays of the sun fall upon the snow-fields and are flashed in echoes from crystal to crystal, but they find next to no lodgment within the crystals. They are hardly at all absorbed, and hence they cannot produce fusion. But a body of powerful dark rays is emitted by the sun; and it- is these that cause the glaciers to shrink and the snows to disappear; it is they that fill the banks of the Arve and Arveyron, and liberate from their frozen captivity the Rhone and the Rhine.

Placing a concave silvered mirror behind the electric light its rays are converged to a focus of dazzling brilliancy. Placing in the path of the rays, between the light and the focus, a vessel of water, and introducing at the focus a piece of ice, the ice is not melted by the concentrated beam. Matches, at the same place, are ignited, and wood is set on fire. The powerful heat, then, of this luminous beam is incompetent to melt the ice. On withdrawing the cell of water, the ice immediately liquefies, and the water trickles from it in drops. Reintroducing the cell of water, the fusion is arrested, and the drops cease to fall. The transparent water of the cell exerts no sensible absorption on the luminous rays, still it withdraws something from the beam, which, when permitted to act, is competent to melt the ice. This something is the dark radiation of the electric light. Again, I place a slab of pure ice in front of the electric lamp; send a luminous beam first through our cell of water and then through the ice. By means of a lens an image of the slab is cast upon a white screen. The beam, sifted by the water, has little power upon the ice. But observe what occurs when the water is removed; we have here a star and there a star, each star resembling a flower of six petals, and growing visibly larger before our eyes. As the leaves enlarge, their edges become serrated, but there is no deviation from the six-rayed type. We have here, in fact, the crystallization of the ice reversed by the invisible rays of the electric beam. They take the molecules down in this wonderful way, and reveal to us the exquisite atomic structure of the substance with which Nature every winter roofs our ponds and lakes.

Numberless effects, apparently anomalous, might be adduced in illustration of the action of these lightless rays. These two powders, for example, are both white, and in-distinguishable from each other by the eye. The luminous rays of the sun are unabsorbed by both—from such rays these powders acquire no heat; still one of them, sugar, is heated so highly by the concentrated beam of the electric lamp that it first smokes and then violently inflames, while the other substance, salt, is barely warmed at the focus. Placing two perfectly transparent liquids in test-tubes at the focus, one of them boils in a couple of seconds, while the other, in a similar position, is hardly warmed. The boiling-point of the first liquid is 78'C., which is speedily reached; that of the second liquid is only 48° C., which is never reached at all. These anomalies are entirely due to the unseen element which mingles with the luminous rays of the electric beam, and indeed constitutes 90 per cent of its calorific power.

A substance, as many of you know, has been discovered, by which these dark rays may be detached from the total emission of the electric lamp. This ray-filter is a liquid, black as pitch to the luminous, but bright as a diamond to the non-luminous, radiation. It mercilessly cuts off the former, but allows the latter free transmission. When these invisible rays are brought to a focus, at a distance of several feet from the electric lamp, the dark rays form an invisible image of their source. By proper means, this image may be transformed into a visible one of dazzling brightness. It might, moreover, be shown, if time permitted, how, out of those perfectly dark rays, could be extracted, by a process of transmutation, all the colors of the solar spectrum. It might also be proved that those rays, powerful as they are, and sufficient to fuse many metals, can be permitted to enter the eye, and to break upon the retina, without producing the least luminous impression.

The dark rays being thus collected, you see nothing at their place of convergence. With a proper thermometer it could be proved that even the air at the focus is just as cold as the surrounding air. And mark the conclusion to which this leads. It proves the ether at the focus to be practically detached from the air—that the most violent ethereal motion may there exist, without the least aerial motion. But, though you see it not, there is sufficient heat at that focus to set London on fire. The heat there is competent to raise iron to a temperature at which it throws off brilliant scintillations. It can heat platinum to whiteness, and almost fuse that refractory metal. It actually can fuse gold, silver, copper, and aluminium. The moment, moreover, that wood is placed at the focus it bursts into a blaze.

It has been already ' affirmed that, whether as regards radiation or absorption, the elementary atoms possess but little power. This might be illustrated by a long array of facts; and one of the most singular of these is furnished by the deportment of that extremely combustible sub-stance, phosphorus, when placed at the dark focus. It is impossible to ignite there a fragment of amorphous phosphorus. But ordinary phosphorus is a far quicker combustible, and its deportment toward radiant heat is still more impressive. It may be exposed to the intense radiation of an ordinary fire without bursting into flame. It may also be exposed for twenty or thirty seconds at an obscure focus, of sufficient power to raise platinum to a red heat, without ignition. Notwithstanding the energy of the ethereal waves here concentrated, notwithstanding the extremely inflammable character of the elementary body exposed to their action, the atoms of that body refuse to partake of the motion of the powerful waves of low refrangibility, and consequently cannot be affected by their heat.

The knowledge we now possess will enable us to analyze with profit a practical question. White dresses are worn in summer, because they are found to be cooler than dark ones. The celebrated Benjamin Franklin placed bits of cloth of various colors upon snow, exposed them to direct sunshine, and found that they sank to different depths in the snow. The black cloth sank deepest, the white did not sink at all. Franklin inferred from this experiment that black bodies are the best absorbers, and white ones the worst absorbers, of radiant heat. Let us test the generality of this conclusion. One of these two cards is coated with a very dark powder, and the other with a perfectly white one. I place the powdered surfaces before a fire, and leave them there until they have acquired as high a temperature as they can attain in this position. Which of the cards is then most highly heated? It requires no thermometer to answer this question. Simply pressing the back of the card, on which the white powder is strewn, against the cheek or forehead, it is found intolerably hot. Placing the dark card in the same position, it is found cool. The white powder has absorbed far more heat than the dark one. This simple result abolishes a hundred conclusions which have been hastily drawn from the experiment of Franklin. Again, here are suspended two delicate mercurial thermometers at the same distance from a gas-flame. The bulb of one of them is covered by a dark substance, the bulb of the other by a white one. Both bulbs have received the radiation from the flame, but the white bulb has absorbed most, and its mercury stands much higher than that of the other thermometer. This experiment might be varied in a hundred ways: it proves that from the darkness of a body you can draw no certain conclusion regarding its power of absorption.

The reason of this simply is, that color gives us intelligence of only one portion, and that the smallest one, of the rays impinging on the colored body. Were the rays all luminous, we might with certainty infer from the color of a body its power of absorption; but the great mass of the radiation from our fire, our gas-flame, and even from the sun itself, consists of invisible calorific rays, regarding which color teaches us nothing. A body may be highly transparent to the one class of rays, and highly opaque to the other. Thus the white powder, which has shown itself so powerful an absorber, has been specially selected on ac-count of its extreme perviousness to the visible rays, and its extreme imperviousness to the invisible ones; while the dark powder was chosen on account of its extreme transparency to the invisible, and its extreme opacity to the visible, rays. In the case of the radiation from our fire, about 98 per cent of the whole emission consists of invisible rays; the body, therefore, which was most opaque to these triumphed as an absorber, though that body was a white one.

And here it is worth while to consider the manner in which we obtain from natural facts what may be called their intellectual value. Throughout the processes of Nature we have interdependence and harmony; and the main value of physics, considered as a mental discipline, consists in the tracing out of this interdependence, and the demonstration of this harmony. The outward and visible phenomena are the counters of the intellect; and our science would not be worthy of its name and fame if it halted at facts, however practically useful, and neglected the laws which accompany and rule the phenomena. Let us endeavor then to extract from the experiment of Franklin all that it can yield, calling to our aid the knowledge which our predecessors have already stored. Let us imagine two pieces of cloth of the same texture, the one black and the other white, placed upon sunned snow. Fixing our attention on the white piece, let us -inquire whether there is any reason to expect that it will sink in the snow at all. There is knowledge at hand which enables us to reply at once in the negative. There is, on the contrary, reason to expect that, after a sufficient exposure, the bit of cloth will be found on an eminence instead of in a hollow; that, instead of a depression, we shall have a relative elevation of the bit of cloth. For, as regards the luminous rays of the sun, the cloth and the snow are alike powerless; the one cannot be warmed, nor the other melted, by such rays. The cloth is white and the snow is white, be-cause their confusedly mingled fibres and particles are incompetent to absorb the luminous rays. Whether, then, the cloth will sink or not depends entirely upon the dark rays of the sun. Now, the substance which absorbs these dark rays with the greatest avidity is ice—or snow, which is merely ice in powder. Hence, a less amount of heat will be lodged in the cloth than in the surrounding snow. The cloth must therefore act as a shield to the snow on which it rests; and, in consequence of the more rapid fusion of the exposed snow, its shield must, in due time, be left behind, perched upon an eminence like a glacier-table.

But though the snow transcends the cloth, both as a radiator and absorber, it does not much transcend it.

Cloth is very powerful in both these respects. Let us now turn our attention to the piece of black cloth, the texture and fabric of which I assume to be the same as that of the white. For our object being to compare the effects of color, we must, in order to study this effect in, its purity, preserve all the other conditions constant. Let us then suppose the black cloth to be obtained from the dyeing of the white. The cloth itself, without reference to the dye, is nearly as good an absorber of heat as the snow around it. But to the absorption of the dark solar rays by the undyed cloth is now added the absorption of the whole of the luminous rays, and this great additional influx of heat is far more than sufficient to turn the balance in favor of the black cloth. The sum of its actions on the dark and luminous rays exceeds the action of the snow on the dark rays alone. Hence the cloth will sink in the snow, and this is the complete analysis of Franklin's experiment.

Throughout this discourse the main stress has been laid on chemical constitution, as influencing most powerfully the phenomena of radiation and absorption. With regard to gases and vapors, and to the liquids from which these vapors are derived, it has been proved by the most varied and conclusive experiments that the acts of radiation and absorption are molecular—that they depend upon chemical, and not upon mechanical, condition. In attempting to ex-tend this principle to solids I was met by a multitude of facts, obtained by celebrated experimenters, which seemed flatly to forbid- such an extension. Melloni, for example, had found the same radiant and absorbent power for chalk and lamp-black. MM. Masson and Courtepee had performed a most elaborate series of experiments on chemical precipitates of various kinds, and found that they one and all manifested the same power of radiation. They concluded from their researches, that when bodies are reduced to an extremely fine state of division, the influence of this state is so powerful as entirely to mask and override whatever influence may be due to chemical constitution.

But it appears to me that through the whole of these researches an oversight has run, the mere mention of which will show what caution is essential in the operations of experimental philosophy; while an experiment or two will make clear wherein the oversight consists. Filllng a brightly polished metal cube with boiling water, I determine the quantity of heat emitted by two of the bright surfaces. As a radiator of heat one of them far transcends the other. Both surfaces appear to be metallic; what, then, is the cause of the observed difference in their radiative power? Simply this: one of the surfaces is coated with transparent gum, through which, of course, is seen the metallic lustre behind; and this varnish, though so perfectly transparent to luminous rays, is as opaque as pitch, or lamp-black, to non-luminous ones. It is a powerful emitter of dark rays; it is also a powerful absorber. While, therefore, at the present moment, it is copiously pouring forth radiant heat itself, it does not allow a single ray from the metal behind to pass through it. The varnish then, and not the metal, is the real radiator.

Now, Melloni, and Masson, and Courtepee, experimented thus: they mixed their powders and precipitates with gum-water, and laid them, by means of a brush, upon the surfaces of a cube like this. True, they saw their red powders red, their white ones white, and their black ones black, but they saw these colors through the coat of varnish which surrounded every particle. When, therefore, it was concluded that color had no influence on radiation, no chance had been given to it of asserting its influence; when it was found that all chemical precipitates radiated alike, it was the radiation from a varnish, common to them all, which showed the observed constancy. Hundreds, perhaps thousands, of experiments on radiant heat have been performed in this way, by various inquirers, but the work will, I fear, have to be done over again. I am not, in-deed, acquainted with an instance in which an oversight of so trivial a character has been committed by so many able men in succession, vitiating so large an amount of otherwise excellent work.

Basing our reasonings thus on demonstrated facts, we arrive at the extremely probable conclusion that the envelope of the particles, and not the particles themselves, was the real radiator in the experiments just referred to. To reason thus, and deduce their more or less probable consequences from experimental facts, is an incessant exercise of the student of physical science. But having thus followed, for a time, the light of reason alone through a series of phenomena, and emerged from them with a purely intellectual conclusion, our duty is to bring that conclusion to an experimental test. In this way we fortify our science.

For the purpose of testing our conclusion regarding the influence of the gum, I take two powders presenting the same physical appearance; one of them is a compound of mercury, and the other a compound of lead. On two surfaces of a cube are spread these bright red powders, without varnish of any kind. Filling the cube with boiling water, and determining the radiation from the two surfaces, one of them is found to emit thirty-nine units of heat, while the other emits seventy-four. This, surely, is a great difference. here, however, is a second cube, having two of its surfaces coated with the same powders, the only difference being that the powders are laid on by means of a transparent gum. Both surfaces are now absolutely alike in radiative power. Both of them emit somewhat more than was emitted by either of the unvarnished powders, simply because the gum employed is a better radiator than either of them. Excluding all varnish, and comparing white with white, vast differences are found; comparing black with black, they are also different; and when black and white are compared, in some cases the black radiates far more than the white, while in other cases the white radiates far more than the black. Determining, moreover, the absorptive power of those powders, it is found to go hand-in-hand with their radiative power. The good radiator is a good absorber, and the bad radiator is a bad absorber. From all this it is evident that, as regards the radiation and absorption of non-luminous heat, color teaches us nothing; and that even as regards the radiation of the sun, consisting as it does mainly of non-luminous rays, conclusions as to the influence of color may be altogether delusive. This is the strict scientific upshot of our re-searches. But it is not the less true that in the case of wearing apparel—and this for reasons which I have given in analyzing the experiment of Franklin—black dresses are more potent than white ones as absorbers of solar heat.

Thus, in brief outline, have been brought before you a few of the results of recent inquiry. If you ask me what is the use of them, I can hardly answer you, unless you define the term use. If you meant to ask whether those dark rays which clear away the Alpine snows will ever be applied to the roasting of turkeys, or the driving of steamengines—while affirming their power to do both, I would frankly confess that they are not at present capable of competing profitably with coal in these particulars. Still they may have great uses unknown to me; and, when our coal-fields are exhausted, it is possible that a more ethereal race than we are may cook their victuals, and perform their work, in this transcendental way. But is it necessary that the student of science should have his labors tested by their possible practical applications? What is the practical value of Homer's Iliad? You smile, and possibly think that Homer's Iliad is good as a means of culture. There's the rub. The people who demand of science practical uses, forget, or do not know, that it also is great as a means of culture—that the knowledge of this wonderful universe is a thing profitable in itself, and requiring no practical application to justify. its pursuit.

But, while the student of Nature distinctly refuses to have his labors judged by their practical issues, unless the term practical be made to include mental as well as material good, he knows full well that the greatest practical triumphs have been episodes in the search after pure natural truth. The electric telegraph is the standing wonder of this age, and the men whose scientific knowledge, and mechanical skill, have made the telegraph what it is, are deserving of all honor. In fact, they have had their re ward, both in reputation and in those more substantial benefits which the direct service of the public always carries in its train. But who, I would ask, put the soul into this telegraphic body? Who snatched from heaven the fire that flashes along the line? This, I am bound to say, was done by two men, the one a dweller in Italy,' the other a dweller in England,' who never in their inquiries consciously set a practical object before them—whose only stimulus was the fascination which draws the climber to a never-trodden peak, and would have made Caesar quit his victories for the sources of the Nile. That the knowledge brought to us by those prophets, priests, and kings of science, is what the world calls "useful knowledge," the triumphant application of - their discoveries proves. But science has another function to fulfil, in the storing and the training of the human mind; and I would base my appeal to you on the specimen which has this evening been brought before you, whether any system of education at the present day can be deemed even approximately complete, in which the knowledge of Nature is neglected or ignored.



Home | More Articles | Email: info@oldandsold.com