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Contributions To Molecular Physics

( Originally Published 1905 )



HAVING on previous occasions dwelt upon the enormous differences which exist among gaseous bodies both as regards their power of absorbing and emitting radiant heat, I have now to consider the effect of a change of aggregation. When a gas is condensed to a liquid, or a liquid congealed to a solid, the molecules coalesce and grapple with each other by forces which are insensible as long as the gaseous state is maintained. But, even in the solid and liquid conditions, the luminiferous ether still surrounds the molecules: hence, if the acts of radiation and absorption depend on them individually, regardless of their state of aggregation, the change from the gaseous to the liquid state ought not materially to affect the radiant and absorbent power. If, on the contrary, the mutual entanglement of the molecules by the force of cohesion be of paramount influence, then we may expect that liquids will exhibit a deportment toward radiant heat altogether different from that of the vapors from which they are derived.

The first part of an inquiry conducted in 1863-64 was devoted to an exhaustive examination of this question. Twelve different liquids were employed, and five different layers of each, varying in thickness from 0.02 of an inch to 0.27 of an inch. The liquids were enclosed, not in glass vessels, which would have materially modified the incident heat, but between plates of transparent rock-salt, which only slightly affected the radiation. The source of heat throughout these comparative experiments consisted of a platinum wire, raised to incandescence by an electric current of unvarying strength. The quantities of radiant heat absorbed and transmitted by each of the liquids at the respective thicknesses were first determined. The vapors of these liquids were subsequently examined, the quantities of vapor employed being rendered proportional to the quantities of liquid previously traversed by the radiant heat. The result was that, for heat from the same source, the order of absorption of liquids and of their vapors proved absolutely the same. There is no known exception to this law; so that, to determine the position of a vapor as an absorber or a radiator, it is only necessary to determine the position of its liquid.

This result proves that the state of aggregation, as far, at all events, as the liquid stage is concerned, is of altogether subordinate moment—a conclusion which will probably prove to be of cardinal importance in molecular physics. On one important and contested point it has a special bearing. If the position of a liquid as an absorber and radiator determine that of its vapor, the position of water fixes that of aqueous vapor. Water has been compared with other liquids in a multitude of experiments, and it has been found, both as a radiant and as an absorbent, to transcend them all. Thus, for example, a layer of bisulphide of carbon 0.02 of an inch in thickness absorbs 6 per cent and allows 94 per cent of the radiation from the red-hot platinum spiral to pass through it; benzol absorbs 43 and transmits 57 per cent of the same radiation; alcohol absorbs 67 and transmits 33 per cent, and alcohol, as an absorber of radiant heat, stands at the head of all liquids except one. The exception is water. A layer of this substance, of the thickness above given; absorbs 81 per cent and permits only 19 per cent of the radiation to pass through it. Had no single experiment ever been made upon the vapor of water, its vigorous action upon radiant heat might be inferred from the deportment of the liquid.

The relation of absorption and radiation to the chemical constitution of the radiating and absorbing substances was next briefly considered. For the first six substances in the list of liquids examined, the radiant and absorbent powers augment as the number of atoms in the compound molecule augments. Thus, bisulphide of carbon has 3 atoms, chloroform 5, iodide of ethyl 8, benzol 12, and amylene 15 atoms in their respective molecules. The order of their power as radiants and absorbents is that here indicated, bisulphide of carbon being the feeblest and amylene the strongest of the six. Alcohol, however, excels benzol as an absorber, though it has but 9 atoms in its molecule; but, on the other hand, its molecule is rendered more complex by the introduction of a new element. Benzol contains carbon and hydrogen, while alcohol contains carbon, hydrogen and oxygen. Thus, not only does atomic multitude come into play in absorption and radiation—atomic complexity must also be taken into account. I would recommend to the particular attention of chemists the molecule of water; the deportment of this substance toward radiant heat being perfectly anomalous, if the chemical formula at present ascribed to it be correct.

Sir William Herschel made the important discovery that, beyond the limits of the red end of the solar spectrum, rays of high heating power exist which are incompetent to excite vision. The discovery is capable of extension. Dissolving iodine in the bisulphide of carbon, a solution is obtained which entirely intercepts the light of the most brilliant flames, while to the ultra-red rays of such flames the same iodine is found to be perfectly diathermic. The transparent bisulphide, which is highly pervious to invisible heat, exercises on it the same absorption as the perfectly opaque solution. A hollow prism filled with the opaque liquid being placed in the path of the beam from an electric lamp, the light-spectrum is completely intercepted, but the heat-spectrum may be received upon a screen and there examined. Falling upon a thermo-electric pile, its invisible presence is shown by the prompt deflection of even a coarse galvanometer.

What, then, is the physical meaning of opacity and transparency as regards light and radiant heat? The visible rays of the spectrum differ from the invisible ones simply in period. The sensation of light is excited by waves of ether shorter and more quickly recurrent than the non-visual waves which fall beyond the extreme red. But why should iodine stop the former and allow the latter to pass? The answer to this question no doubt is, that the intercepted waves are those whose periods of recurrence coincide with the periods of oscillation possible to the atoms of the dissolved iodine. The elastic forces which keep these atoms apart compel them to vibrate in definite periods, and, when these periods synchronize with those of the ethereal waves, the latter are absorbed. Briefly defined, then, transparency in liquids, as well as in gases, is synonymous with discord, while opacity is synonymous with accord, between the periods of the waves of ether and those of the molecules on which they impinge.

According to this view transparent and colorless sub-stances owe their transparency to the dissonance existing _ between the oscillating periods of their atoms and those of the waves of the whole visible spectrum. From the prevalence of transparency in compound bodies, the general discord of the vibrating periods of their atoms with the light-giving waves of the spectrum may be inferred; while their synchronism with the ultra-red periods is to be inferred from their opacity to the ultra-red rays. Water illustrates this in a most striking manner. It is highly transparent to the luminous rays, which proves that its atoms do not readily oscillate in the periods which excite vision. It is highly opaque to the ultra-red undulations, which proves the synchronism of its vibrating periods with those of the longer waves.

If, then, to the radiation from any source water shows itself eminently or perfectly opaque, we may infer that the atoms whence the radiation emanates oscillate in ultra-red periods. Let us apply this test to the radiation from a flame of hydrogen. This flame consists mainly of incandescent aqueous vapor, the temperature of which, as calculated by Bunsen, is 3,259° C., so that, if the penetrative power of radiant heat, as generally supposed, augment with the temperature of its source, we may expect the radiation from this flame to be copiously transmitted by water. While, however, a layer of the bisulphide of carbon 0.07 of an inch in thickness transmits 72 per cent of the incident radiation, and while every other liquid examined transmits more or less of the heat, a layer of water of the above thickness is entirely opaque to the radiation from the hydrogen flame. Thus we establish accord between the periods of the atoms of cold water and those of aqueous vapor at a temperature of 3,259° C. But the periods of water have already been proved to be ultrared—hence those of the hydrogen flame must be sensibly ultra-red also. The absorption by dry air of the heat emitted by a platinum spiral raised to incandescence by electricity is insensible, while that by the ordinary undried air is 6 per cent. Substituting for the platinum spiral a hydrogen flame, the absorption by dry air still remains insensible, while that of the undried air rises to 20 per cent of the entire radiation. The temperature of the hydrogen flame is, as stated, 3,259° C.; that of the aqueous vapor of the air 20° C. Suppose, then, the temperature of aqueous vapor to rise from 20° C. to 3,259° C., we must conclude that the augmentation of temperature is applied to an increase of amplitude or width of swing, and not to the introduction of quicker periods into the radiation.

The part played by aqueous vapor in the economy of nature is far more wonderful than has been hitherto supposed. To nourish the vegetation of the earth the actinic and luminous rays of the sun must penetrate our atmosphere-; and to such rays aqueous vapor is eminently transparent. The violet and the ultra-violet rays pass through it with freedom. To protect vegetation from destructive chills the terrestrial rays must be checked in their transit toward stellar space; and this is accomplished by the aqueous vapor diffused through the air. This substance is the great moderator of the earth's temperature, bringing its extremes into proximity, and obviating contrasts between day and night which would render life insupportable. But we can advance beyond this general statement, now that we know the radiation from aqueous vapor is intercepted, in a special degree, by water, and, reciprocally, the radiation from water by aqueous vapor; for it follows from this that the very act of nocturnal refrigeration which produces the condensation of aqueous vapor at the surface of the earth—giving, as it were, a varnish of water to that surface—imparts to terrestrial radiation that particular character which disqualifies it from passing through the earth's atmosphere and losing itself in space.

And here we come to a question in molecular physics which at the prcsent moment occupies attention. By al-lowing the violet and ultra-violet rays of the spectrum to fall upon sulphate of quinine and other substances, Professor Stokes has changed the periods of those rays. Attempts have been made to produce a similar result at the other end of the spectrum—to convert the ultra-red periods into periods competent to excite vision—but hitherto without success. Such a change of period, I agree with Dr. Miller in believing, occurs when the lime-light is produced by an- oxy-hydrogen flame. In this common experiment there is an actual breaking up of long periods into short ones—a true rendering of unvisual periods visual. The change of refrangibility here effected differs from that of Professor Stokes; first, by its being in the opposite direction—that is, from a lower refrangibility to a higher; and, secondly, in the circumstance that the lime is heated by the collision of the molecules of aqueous vapor, before their heat has assumed the radiant form. But it cannot be doubted that the same effect would be produced by radiant heat of the same periods, provided the motion of the ether could be rendered sufficiently intense.' The effect in principle is the same, whether we consider the lime to be struck by a particle of aqueous vapor oscillating at a certain rate, or by a particle of ether oscillating at the same rate.

By plunging a platinum wire into a hydrogen flame we cause it to glow, and thus introduce shorter periods into the radiation. These, as already stated, are in discord with the atomic vibrations of water; hence we may infer that the transmission through water will be rendered more copious by the introduction of the wire into the flame. Experiment proves this conclusion to be true. Water, from being opaque, opens a passage to 6 per cent of the radiation from the spiral. A thin plate of colorless glass, moreover, transmits 58 per cent of the radiation from the hydrogen flame; but when the flame and spiral are employed, 78 per cent of the heat is transmitted.

For an alcohol flame Knoblauch and Melloni found glass to be less transparent than for the same flame with a platinum spiral immersed in it; but Melloni afterward showed that the result was not general-that black glass and black mica were decidedly more diathermic to the radiation from the pure alcohol flame. Melloni did not explain this, but the reason is now obvious. The mica and glass owe their blackness to the carbon diffused through them. This carbon, as first proved by Melloni, is in some measure transparent to the ultra-red rays, and I have myself succeeded in transmitting between 40 and 50 per cent of the radiation from a hydrogen flame through a layer of carbon which intercepted the light of an intensely brilliant flame. The products of combustion of alcohol are carbonic acid and aqueous vapor, the heat of which is almost wholly ultra-red. For this radiation, then, the carbon is in a considerable degree transparent, while for the radiation from the platinum spiral it is in a great measure opaque. The platinum wire, therefore, which augmented the radiation through the pure glass, augmented the absorption of the black glass and mica.

No more striking or instructive illustration of the influence of coincidence could be adduced than that furnished by the radiation from a carbonic oxide flame. Here the product of combustion is carbonic acid; and on the radiation from this flame even the ordinary carbonic acid of the atmosphere exerts a powerful effect. A quantity of the gas, only one-thirtieth of an atmosphere in density, contained in a polished brass tube four feet long, intercepts 50 per cent of the radiation from the carbonic oxide flame. For the heat emitted by lampblack, olefiant gas is a far more powerful absorber than carbonic acid; in fact, for such heat, with one exception, carbonic acid is the most feeble absorber to be found among the compound gases. Moreover, for the radiation from a hydrogen flame olefiant gas possesses twice the absorbent power of carbonic acid, while for the radiation from the carbonic oxide flame, at a common pressure of one inch of mercury, the absorption by carbonic acid is more than twice that of olefiant gas. Thus we establish the coincidence of period between carbonic acid at a temperature of 20° C. and carbonic acid at a temperature of over 3,000° C., the periods of oscillation of both the incandescent and the cold gas belonging to the ultra-red portion of the spectrum.

It will be seen from the foregoing remarks and experiments how impossible it is to determine the effect of temperature pure and simple on the transmission of radiant heat if different sources of heat be employed. Through-out such an examination the same oscillating atoms ought to be retained. This is done by heating a platinum spiral by an electric current, the temperature meanwhile varying between the widest possible limits. Their comparative opacity to the ultra-red rays shows the general accord of the oscillating periods of the vapors referred to at the commencement of this lecture with those of the ultra-red undulations. Hence, by gradually heating a platinum wire from darkness up to whiteness, we ought gradually to augment the discord between it and these vapors, and thus augment the transmission. Experiment entirely con-firms this conclusion. Formic ether, for example, absorbs 45 per cent of the radiation from a platinum spiral heated to barely visible redness ; 32 per cent of the radiation from the same spiral at a red heat; 26 per cent of the radiation from a white-hot spiral, and only 21 per cent when the spiral is brought near its point of fusion. Remarkable cases of inversion as to transparency also occur. For barely visible redness formic ether is more opaque, than sulphuric; for a bright red heat both are equally transparent; while, for a white heat, and still more for a higher temperature, sulphuric ether is more opaque than formic. This result gives us a clear view of the relation-ship of the two substances to the luminiferous ether. As we introduce waves of shorter period the sulphuric ether augments most rapidly in opacity; that is to say, its accord with the shorter waves is greater than that of the formic. Hence we may infer that the atoms of formic ether oscillate, on the whole, more slowly than those of sulphuric ether.

When the source of heat is a Leslie's cube coated with lampblack and filled with boiling water, the opacity of formic ether in comparison with sulphuric is very decided. With this source also the positions of chloroform and iodide of methyl are inverted. For a white-hot spiral, the absorption of chloroform vapor being 10 per cent, that of iodide of methyl is 16; with the blackened cube as source, the absorption by chloroform is 22 per cent, while that by the iodide of methyl is only 19. This in-version is not the result of temperature merely; for when a platinum wire, heated to the temperature of boiling water, is employed as a source, the iodide continues to be the most powerful absorber. All the experiments hitherto made go to prove that from heated lampblack an emission takes place which synchronizes in an especial manner with chloroform. For the cube at 100° C., coated with lampblack, the absorption by chloroform is more than three times that by bisulphide of carbon; for the radiation from the most luminous portion of a gas-flame the absorption by chloroform is also considerably in excess of that by bisulphide of carbon; while, for the flame of a Bunsen's burner, from which the incandescent carbon particles are removed by the free admixture of air, the absorption by bisulphide of carbon is nearly twice that by chloroform. The removal of the carbon particles more than doubles the relative transparency of the chloroform. Testing, moreover, the radiation from various parts of the same flame, it was found that for the blue base of the flame the bisulphide of carbon was most opaque, while for all other parts of the flame the chloroform was most opaque. For the radiation from a very small gas-flame, consisting of a blue base and a small white tip, the bisulphide was also most opaque, and its opacity very decidedly exceeded that of the chloroform when the source of heat was the flame of bisulphide of carbon. Comparing the radiation from a Leslie's cube coated with isinglass with that from a similar cube coated with lampblack, at the common, temperature of 100° C., it was found that, out of eleven vapors, all but one absorbed the radiation from the isinglass most powerfully; the single exception was chloroform.

It is worthy of remark that whenever, through a change of source, the position of a vapor as an absorber of radiant heat was altered, the position of the liquid from which the vapor was derived underwent a similar change,

It is still a point of difference between eminent investigators whether radiant heat, up to a temperature of 100° C., is monochromatic or not. Some affirm this; some deny it. A long series of experiments enables me to state that probably no two substances at a temperature of 100° C. emit heat of the same quality. The heat emitted by isinglass, for example, is different from that emitted by lampblack, and the heat emitted by cloth, or paper, differs from both. It is also a subject of discussion whether rock salt is equally diathermic to all kinds of calorific rays; the differences affirmed to exist by some investigators being ascribed by others to differences of incidence from the various sources employed. MM. de la Provostaye and Desains maintain the former view, Melloni and M. Knoblauch maintain the latter. I tested this point without changing anything but the temperature of the source; its size, distance, and surroundings remaining the same. The experiments proved rock-salt to be colored thermally. It is more opaque, for example, to the radiation from a barely visible spiral than to that from a white-hot one.

In regard to the relation of radiation to conduction, if we define radiation, internal as well as external, as the communication of motion from the vibrating atoms to the ether, we may, I think, by fair theoretic reasoning, reach the conclusion that the best radiators ought to prove the worst conductors. A broad consideration of the subject shows at once the general harmony of this conclusion with observed facts. Organic substances are all excellent radiators; they are also extremely bad conductors. The moment we pass from the metals to their compounds we pass from good conductors to bad ones, and from bad radiators to good ones. Water, among liquids, is probably the worst conductor; it is the best radiator. Silver, among solids, is the best conductor; it is the worst radiator. The excellent researches of MM. de la Provostaye and Desains furnish a striking illustration of what I am inclined to regard as a natural law—that those atoms which transfer the greatest amount of motion to the ether, or, in other words, radiate most powerfully, are the least competent to communicate motion to each other, or, in other words, to propagate by conduction readily.



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