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Physics - On Force

( Originally Published 1905 )

A SPHERE of lead was suspended at a height of 16 feet above the theatre floor of the Royal Institution. It was liberated, and fell by gravity. That weight required a second to fall to the floor from that elevation; and the instant before it touched the floor it had a velocity of 32 feet a second. That is to say, if at that instant the earth were annihilated, and its attraction annulled, the weight would proceed through space at the uniform velocity of 32 feet a second.

If instead of being pulled downward by gravity, the weight be cast upward in opposition to gravity, then, to reach a height of 16 feet it must start with a velocity of 32 feet a second. This velocity imparted to the weight by the human hand, or by any other mechanical means, would carry it to the precise height from which we saw it fall.

Now the lifting of the weight may be regarded as so much mechanical work performed. By means of a ladder placed against the wall, the weight might be carried up to a height of 16 feet; or it might be drawn up to this height by means of a string and pulley, or it might be suddenly jerked up to a height of 16 feet. The amount of work done in all these cases, as far as the raising of the weight is concerned, would be absolutely the same. The work done at one and the same place, and neglecting the small change of gravity with the height, depends solely upon two things; on the quantity of matter lifted, and on the height to which it is lifted. If we call the quantity or mass of matter m, and the height through which it is lifted h, then the product of m into h, or m h, expresses, or is 'proportional to, the amount of work done.

Supposing, instead of imparting a velocity of 32 feet a second we impart at starting twice this velocity. To what height will the weight rise? You might be disposed to answer, "To twice the height"; but this would be quite incorrect. Instead of twice 16, or 32 feet, it would reach a height of four times 16, or 64 feet. So also, if we treble the starting velocity, the weight would reach nine times the height; if we quadruple the speed at starting, we attain sixteen times the height. Thus, with a fourfold velocity of 128 feet a second at starting, the weight would attain an elevation of 256 feet. With a sevenfold velocity at starting, the weight would rise to 49 times the height, or to an elevation of 784 feet.

Now the work done—or, as it is sometimes called, the mechanical effect—other things being constant, is, as be-fore explained, proportional to the height, and as a double velocity gives four times the height, a treble velocity nine times the height, and so on, it is perfectly plain that the mechanical effect increases as the square of the velocity. If the mass of the body be represented by the letter m, and its velocity by v, the mechanical effect would be proportional to or represented by m v2. In the case considered, I have supposed the weight to be cast upward, being opposed in its flight by the resistance of gravity ; but the same holds true if the projectile be sent into water, mud, earth, timber, or other resisting material. If, for example, we double the velocity of a cannon-ball, we quadruple its mechanical effect. Hence the importance of augmenting the velocity of a projectile, and hence the philosophy of Sir William Armstrong in using a large charge of powder in his recent striking experiments.

The measure then of mechanical effect is the mass of the body multiplied by the square of its velocity.

Now in firing a ball against a target the projectile, after collision, is often found hot. Mr. Fairbairn informs me that in the experiments at Shoeburyness it is a common thing to see a flash, even in broad daylight, when the ball strikes the target. And if our lead weight be examined after it has fallen from a height it is also found heated. Now here experiment and reasoning lead us to the remarkable law that, like the mechanical effect, the amount of heat generated is proportional to the product of the mass into the square of the velocity. Double your mass, other things being equal, and you double your amount of heat; double your velocity, other things remaining equal, and you quadruple your amount of heat. Here then we have common mechanical motion destroyed and heat produced. When a violin bow is drawn across a string, the sound produced is due to motion imparted to the air, and to produce that motion muscular force has been expended. We may here correctly say that the mechanical force of the arm is converted into music. In a similar way we say that the arrested motion of our descending weight, or of the cannon-ball, is converted into heat. The mode of motion changes, but motion still continues ; the motion of the mass is converted into a motion of the atoms of the mass; and these small motions, communicated to the nerves, produce the sensation we call heat.

We know the amount of heat which a given amount of mechanical force can develop. Our lead ball, for example, in falling to the earth generated a quantity of heat sufficient to raise its own temperature three-fifths of a Fahrenheit degree. It reached the earth with a velocity of 32 feet a second, and forty times this velocity would be small for a rifle bullet; multiplying 3/5ths by the square of 40, we find that the amount of heat developed by collision with the target would, if wholly concentrated in the lead, raise its temperature 960 degrees. This would be more than sufficient to fuse the lead. In reality, how-ever, the heat developed is divided between the lead and the body against which it strikes; nevertheless, it would be worth while to pay attention to this point, and to as-certain whether rifle bullets do not, under some circumstances, show signs of fusion.'

From the motion of sensible masses, by gravity and other means, we now pass to the motion of atoms toward each other by chemical affinity. A collodion balloon filled with a mixture of chlorine and hydrogen being hung in the focus of a parabolic mirror, in the focus of a second mirror 20 feet distant a strong electric light was suddenly generated; the instant the concentrated light fell upon the balloon, the gases within it exploded, hydrochloric acid being the. result. Here the atoms virtually fell together, the amount of heat produced showing the enormous force of the collision. The burning of charcoal in oxygen is an old experiment, but it has now a significance beyond what it used to have; we now regard the act of combination on the part of the atoms of oxygen and coal as we regard the clashing of a falling weight against the earth. The heat produced in both cases is referrible to a common cause. A diamond, which burns in oxygen as a star of white light, glows and burns in consequence of the falling of the atoms of oxygen against it. And could we measure the velocity of the atoms when they clash, and could we find their number and weights, multiplying the weight of each atom by the square of its velocity, and adding all together, we should get a number representing the exact amount of heat developed by the union of the oxygen and carbon.

Thus far we have regarded the heat developed by the clashing of sensible masses and of atoms. Work is expended in giving motion to these atoms or masses, and heat is developed. But we reverse this process daily, and by the expenditure of heat execute work. We can raise a weight by heat; and in this agent we possess an enormous store of mechanical power. A pound of coal produces by its combination with oxygen an amount of heat which, if mechanically applied, would suffice to raise a weight of 100 lbs. to a height of 20 miles above the earth's surface. Conversely, 100 lbs. falling from a height of 20 miles, and striking against the earth, would generate an amount of heat equal to that developed by the combustion of a pound of coal. Wherever work is done by heat, heat disappears. A gun which fires a ball is less heated than one which fires a blank cartridge. The quantity of heat communicated to the boiler of a working steam-engine is greater than that which could be obtained from the recondensation of the steam, after it had done its work; and the amount of work performed is the exact equivalent of the amount of heat lost. Mr. Smyth in-formed us, in his interesting discourse, that we dig annually 84 millions of tons of coal from our pits. The amount of mechanical force represented by this quantity of coal seems perfectly fabulous. The combustion of a single pound of coal, supposing it to take place in a minute, would be equivalent to the work of 300 horses; and if we suppose 108 millions of horses working day and night with unimpaired strength, for a year, their united energies would enable them to perform an amount of work just equivalent to that which the annual produce of our coal-fields would be able to accomplish.

Comparing with ordinary gravity the force with which oxygen and carbon unite together, chemical affinity seems almost infinite. But let us give gravity fair play by permitting it to act throughout its entire range. Place a body at such a distance from the earth that the attraction of our planet is barely sensible, and let it fall to the earth from this distance. It would reach the earth with a final velocity of 36,747 feet a second; and on collision with the earth the body would generate about twice the amount of heat generated by the combustion of an equal weight of coal. We have stated that by falling through a space of 16 feet our lead bullet would be heated three-fifths of a degree; but a body falling from an infinite distance has already used up 1,299,999 parts out of 1,300,000 of the earth's pulling power, when it has arrived within 16 feet of the surface; on this space only 1/1,300,000ths of the whole force is exerted.

Let us now turn our thoughts for a moment from the earth to the sun. The researches of Sir John Herschel and M. Pouillet have informed us of the annual expenditure of the sun as regards heat; and by an easy calculation we ascertain the precise amount of the expenditure which falls to the share of our planet. Out of 2,300 million parts of light and heat the earth receives one. The whole heat emitted by the sun in a minute would be competent to boil 12,000 millions of cubic miles of ice-cold water. How is this enormous loss made good—whence is the sun's heat derived, and by what means is it maintained? 1\10 combustion—no chemical affinity with which we are acquainted—would be competent to produce the temperature of the sun's surface. Besides, were the sun a burning body merely, its light and heat would speedily come to an end. Supposing it to be a solid globe of coal, its combustion would only cover 4,600 years of expenditure. In this short time it would burn itself out. What agency then can produce the temperature and maintain the out-lay? We have already regarded the case of a body falling from a great distance toward the earth, and found that the heat generated by its collision would be twice that produced by the combustion of an equal weight of coal. How much greater must be the heat developed by a body falling against the sun! The maximum velocity with which a body can strike the earth is about 7 miles in a second; the maximum velocity with which it can strike the sun is 390 miles in a second. And as the heat developed by the collision is proportional to the square of the velocity destroyed, an asteroid falling into the sun with the above velocity would generate about 10,000 times the quantity of heat produced by the combustion of an asteroid of coal of the same weight.

Have we any reason to believe that such bodies exist in space, and that they may be raining down upon the sun? The meteorites flashing through the air are small planetary bodies, drawn by the earth's attraction. They enter our atmosphere with planetary velocity, and by friction against the air they are raised to incandescence and caused to emit light and heat. At certain seasons of the year they shower down upon us in great numbers. In Boston 240,000 of them were observed in nine hours. There. is no reason to suppose that the planetary system is limited to "vast masses of enormous weight" ; there is, on the contrary, reason to believe that space is stocked with smaller masses, which obey the same laws as the larger ones. That lenticular envelope which surrounds the sun, and which is known to astronomers as the Zodiacal light, is probably a crowd of meteors; and, moving as they do in a resisting medium, they must continually approach the sun. Falling into it, they would produce enormous heat, and this would constitute a source from which the annual loss of heat might be made good. The sun, according to this hypothesis, would continually grow larger; but how much larger? Were our moon to fall into the sun, it would develop an amount of heat sufficient to cover one or two years' loss; and were our earth to fall into the sun a century's loss would be made good. Still, our moon and our earth, if distributed over the surface of the sun, would utterly vanish from perception. Indeed, the quantity of matter competent to produce the required effect would, during the range of history, cause no appreciable augmentation in the sun's magnitude. The augmentation of the sun's attractive force would be more sensible. However this hypothesis may fare as a representant of what is going on in Nature, it certainly shows how a sun might - be formed and maintained on known thermo-dynamic principles.

Our earth moves in its orbit with a velocity of 68,040 miles an hour. Were this motion stopped, an amount of heat would be developed sufficient to raise the temperature of a globe of lead of the same size as the earth 384,000 degrees of the centigrade thermometer. It has been prophesied that "the elements shall melt with fervent heat." The earth's own motion embraces the conditions of fulfilment; stop that motion, and the greater part, if not the whole, of our planet would be reduced to vapor. If the earth fell into the sun, the amount of heat developed by the shock would be equal to that developed by the combustion of a mass of solid coal 6,435 times the earth in size.

There is one other consideration connected with the permanence of our present terrestrial conditions which is well worthy of our attention. Standing upon one of the London bridges, we observe the current of the Thames re-versed, and the water poured upward twice a day. The water thus moved rubs against the river's bed, and heat is the consequence of this friction. The heat thus generated is in part radiated into space and lost, as far as the earth is concerned. What supplies this incessant loss? The earth's rotation. Let us look a little more closely at the matter. Imagine the moon fixed, and the earth turning like a wheel from west to east in its diurnal rotation. Suppose a high' mountain on the earth's surface approaching the earth's meridian; that mountain is, as it were, laid hold of by the moon; it forms a kind of handle by which the earth is pulled more quickly round. But when the meridian is passed the pull of the moon on the mountain would be in the opposite direction, it would tend to diminish the velocity of rotation as much as it previously augmented it; thus the action of all fixed bodies on the earth's surface is neutralized. But suppose the mountain to lie always to the east of the moon's meridian, the pull then would be always exerted against the earth's rotation, the velocity of which would be diminished in a degree corresponding to the strength of the pull. The tidal wave occupies this position—it lies always to the east of the moon's meridian. The waters of the ocean are in part dragged as a brake along the surface of the earth; and as a brake they must diminish the velocity of the earth's rotation.' Supposing then that we turn a mill by the action of the tide, and produce heat by the friction of the millstones; that heat has an origin totally different from the heat produced by another mill which is turned by a mountain stream. The former is produced at the expense of the earth's rotation, the latter at the expense of the sun's radiation.

The sun, by the act of vaporization, lifts mechanically all the moisture of our air, which, when it condenses, falls in the form of rain, and when it freezes falls as snow. In this solid form it is piled upon the Alpine heights, and furnishes materials for glaciers. But the sun again inter-poses, liberates the solidified liquid, and permits it to roll by gravity to the sea. The mechanical force of every river in the world as it rolls toward the ocean is drawn from the heat of the sun. No streamlet glides to a lower level without having been first lifted to the elevation from which it springs by the power of the sun. The energy of winds is also due entirely to the same power.

But there is still another work which the sun performs, and its connection with which is not so obvious. Trees and vegetables grow upon the earth, and when burned they give rise to heat, and hence to mechanical energy. Whence is this power derived? You see this oxide of iron, produced by the falling together of the atoms of iron and oxygen; you cannot see this transparent carbonic acid gas, formed by the falling together of carbon and oxygen. The atoms thus in close union resemble our lead weight while resting on the earth; but we can wind up the weight and prepare it for another fall, and so these atoms can be wound up and thus enabled to repeat the process of combination. In the building of plants carbonic acid is the material from which the carbon of the plant is de-rived; and the solar beam is the agent which tears the atoms asunder, setting the oxygen free, and allowing the carbon to aggregate in woody fibre. Let the solar rays fall upon a surface of sand; the sand is heated, and finally radiates away as much heat as it receives; let the same beams fall upon a forest, the quantity of heat given back is less than the forest receives; for the energy of a portion of the sunbeams is invested in building the trees. Without the sun the reduction of the carbonic acid can-not be effected, and an amount of sunlight is consumed exactly equivalent to the molecular work done. Thus trees are formed; thus the cotton on which Mr. Bazley discoursed last Friday is produced. I ignite this cotton, and it flames; the oxygen again unites with the carbon; but an amount of heat equal to that produced by its combustion was sacrificed by the sun to form that bit of cotton.

We cannot, however, stop at vegetable life, for it is the source, mediate or immediate, of all animal life. The sun severs the carbon from its oxygen and builds the vegetable; the animal consumes the vegetable thus formed, a reunion of the several elements takes place, producing animal heat. The process of building a vegetable is one of winding up; the process of building an animal is one of running down. The warmth of our bodies, and every mechanical energy which we exert, trace their lineage directly to the sun. The fight of a pair of pugilists, the motion of an army, or the lifting of his own body by an Alpine climber up a mountain slope, are all cases of mechanical energy drawn from the sun. A man weighing 150 pounds has 64 pounds of muscle; but these, when dried, reduce themselves to 15 pounds. Doing an ordinary day's work, for eighty days, this mass of muscle would be wholly oxidized. Special organs which do more work would be more quickly consumed: the heart, for example, if entirely unsustained, would be oxidized in about a week. Take the amount of heat due to the direct oxidation of a given weight of food; less heat is developed by the oxidation of the same amount of food in the working animal frame, and the missing quantity is the equivalent of the mechanical work accomplished by the muscles.

I might extend these considerations; the work, indeed, is done to my hand—but I am warned that you have been already kept too long. To 'whom then are we indebted for the most striking generalizations of this evening's discourse? They are the work of a man of whom you have scarcely ever heard—the published labors of a German doctor, named Mayer. Without external stimulus, and pursuing his profession as town physician in Heilbronn, this man was the first to raise the conception of the interaction of heat and other natural forces to clearness in his own mind. And yet he is scarcely ever heard of, and even to scientific men his merits are but partially known. Led by his own beautiful researches, and quite independent of Mayer, Mr. Joule published in 1843 his first paper on the "Mechanical Value of Heat" ; but in 1842 Mayer had actually calculated the mechanical equivalent of heat from data which only a man of the rarest penetration could turn to account. In 1845 he published his memoir on "Organic Motion," and applied the mechanical theory of heat in the most fearless and precise manner to vital processes. He also embraced the other natural agents in his chain of conservation. In 1853 Mr. Waterston proposed, independently, the meteoric theory of the sun's heat, and in 1854 Professor William Thom-son applied his admirable mathematical powers to the development of the theory; but six years previously the subject had been handled in a masterly manner by Mayer, and all that I have said about it has been derived from him. When we consider the circumstances of Mayer's life, and the period at which he wrote, we cannot fail to be struck with astonishment at what he has accomplished. Here was a man of genius working in silence, animated solely by a love of his subject, and arriving at the most important results in advance of those whose lives were entirely devoted to Natural Philosophy. It was the accident of bleeding a feverish patient at Java in 1840 that led Mayer to speculate on these subjects. He noticed that the venous blood in the tropics was of a brighter red than in colder latitudes, and his reasoning on this fact led him into the laboratory of natural forces, where he has worked with such signal ability and success. Well, you will de-sire to know what has become of this man. His mind, it is alleged, gave way; it is said he became insane, and he was certainly sent to a lunatic asylum. In a biographical dictionary of his country it is stated that he died there, but this is incorrect. He recovered; and, I believe, is at this moment a cultivator of vineyards in Heilbronn.

JUNE 20, 1862.

While preparing for publication my last course of lectures on Heat, I wished to make myself acquainted with all that Dr. Mayer had- done in connection with this subject. I accordingly wrote to two gentlemen who above all others seemed likely to give me the information which I needed.' Both of them are Germans, and both particularly distinguished in connection with the Dynamical Theory of Heat. Each of them kindly furnished me with the list of Mayer's publications, and one of them (Clausius) was so friendly as to order them from a bookseller, and to ,send them to me. This friend, in his reply to my first letter regarding Mayer, stated his belief that I should not find anything very important in Mayer's writings; but before forwarding the memoirs to me he read them himself. His letter accompanying them contains the following words: "I must, here retract the statement in my last letter, that you would not find much matter of importance in Mayer's writings: I am astonished at the multitude of beautiful and correct thoughts which they contain"; and he goes on to point out various important subjects in the treatment of which Mayer had anticipated other eminent writers. My other friend, in whose own publications the name of Mayer repeatedly occurs, and whose papers containing these references were translated some years ago by myself, was, on the 10th of last month, unacquainted with the thoughtful and beautiful essay of Mayer's, entitled "Beitrage zur Dynamik des Himmels," and in 1854, when Professor William Thomson developed in so striking a manner the meteoric theory of the sun's heat, he was certainly not aware of the existence of that essay, though from a recent article in "Macmillan's Magazine" I infer that he is now aware of it. Mayer's physiological writings have been referred to by physiologists-by Dr. Carpenter, for example—in terms of honoring recognition. We have hitherto, indeed, obtained fragmentary glimpses of the man, partly from physicists and partly from physiologists; but his total merit has never yet been recognized as it assuredly would have been had he chosen a happier mode of publication. I do not think a greater disservice could be done to a man of science than to overstate his claims: such overstatement is sure to recoil to the disadvantage of him in whose interest it is made. But when Mayer's opportunities, achievements and fate are taken into account, I do not think that I shall be deeply blamed for attempting to place him in that honorable position which I believe to be his due.

Here, however, are the titles of Mayer's papers, the perusal of which will correct any error of judgment into which I may have fallen regarding their author. "Bemerkungen uber die Krafte der unbelebten Natur," Liebig's "Annalen," 1842, vol. 42, p. 231; "Die Organische Bewegung in ihrem Zusammenhange mit dem Stoffwechsel," Heilbronn, 1845; "Beitrage zur Dynamik des Himmels," Heilbronn, 1848; "Bemerkungen caber das Mechanisehe Equivalent der Warme," Heilbronn, 1851.

IN MEMORIAM.—Dr. Julius Robert Mayer died at Heilbronn on March 20, 1878, aged 63 years. It gives me pleasure to reflect that the great position which he will forever occupy in the annals of science was first virtually assigned to him in the foregoing discourse. He was subsequently chosen by acclamation a member of the French Academy of Sciences; and he received from the Royal Society the Copley medal—its highest reward.'


At the meeting of the British Association at Glasgow in 1876—that is to say, more than fourteen years after its delivery and publication—the foregoing lecture was made the cloak for an unseemly personal attack by Professor Tait. The anger which found this uncourteous vent dates from 1863, when it fell to my lot to maintain, in opposition to him and a more eminent colleague, the position which in 1862 I had assigned to Dr. Mayer. In those days Professor Tait denied to Mayer all originality, and he has since, I regret to say, never missed an opportunity, however small, of carping at Mayer's claims. The action of the Academy of Sciences and of the Royal Society summarily disposes of this detraction, to which its object, during his lifetime, never vouchsafed either remonstrance or reply.

Some time ago Professor Tait published a volume of lectures entitled "Recent Advances in Physical Science," which I have reason to know has evoked an amount of censure far beyond that hitherto publicly expressed. Many of the best heads on the continent of Europe agree in their rejection and condemnation of the historic portions of this book. In March last it was subjected to a brief but pungent critique by Du Bois-Reymond, the celebrated Perpetual Secretary of the Academy of Sciences in Berlin. Du Bois-Reymond's address was on "National Feeling," and his critique is thus wound up: "The author of the `Lectures' is not, perhaps, sufficiently well acquainted with the history on which he professes to throw light, and on the later phases of which he passes so unreserved (schroff) a judgment. He thus exposes himself to the suspicion—which, unhappily, is not weakened by his other writings—that the fiery Celtic blood of his country occasionally runs away with him, converting him for the time into a scientific Chauvin. Scientific Chauvinism," adds the learned secretary, "from which German investigators have hitherto kept free, is more reprehensible (gehassig) than political Chauvinism, inasmuch as self-control (sittliche Haltung) is more to be expected from men of science than from the politically excited mass."'

In the case before this "expectation" would, I fear, be doomed to disappointment. But Du Bois-Reymond and his countrymen must not accept the writings of Professor Tait as representative of the thought of England. Surely no nation in the world has more effectually shaken itself free from scientific Chauvinism. From the day that Davy, on presenting the Copley medal to Arago, scorn-fully brushed aside that spurious patriotism which would run national boundaries through the free domain of science, chivalry toward foreigners has been a guiding principle with the Royal Society.

On the more private amenities indulged in by Professor Tait, I do not consider it necessary to say a word.

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