Amazing articles on just about every subject...


The Copley Medalist Of 1870

( Originally Published 1905 )



THIRTY years ago Electro-magnetism was looked to as a motive power which might possibly compete with steam. In centres of industry, such as Manchester, attempts to investigate and apply this power were numerous. This is shown by the scientific literature of the time. Among others Mr. James Prescot Joule, a resident of Manchester, took up the subject, and, in a series of papers published in Sturgeon's "Annals of Electricity" between 1839 and 1841, described various attempts at the construction and perfection of electro-magnetic engines. The spirit in which Mr. Joule pursued these inquiries is revealed in the following extract: "I am particularly anxious, he says, "to communicate any new arrangement in order, if possible, to forestall the monopolizing designs of those who seem to regard this most interesting subject merely in the light of pecuniary speculation." He was naturally held to investigate the laws of electro-magnetic attractions, and in 1840 he announced the important principle that the attractive force exerted by two electro-magnets, or by an electro-magnet and a mass of annealed iron, is directly proportional to the square of the strength of the. magnetizing current; while the attraction exerted between an electro-magnet and the pole of a permanent steel magnet varies simply as the strength of the current. These investigations were conducted independently of, though a little subsequently to, the celebrated inquiries of Henry, Jacobi, and Lenz and Jacobi, on the same subject.

On December 17, 1840, Mr. Joule communicated to the Royal Society a paper on the production of heat by Voltaic electricity. In it he announced the law that the calorific effects of equal quantities of transmitted electricity are proportional to .the resistance overcome by the current, whatever may be the length, thickness, shape, or character of the metal which closes the circuit; and also proportional to the square of the quantity of transmitted electricity. This is a law of primary importance. In another paper, presented to, but declined by, the Royal Society, he confirmed this law by new experiments, and materially extended it. He also executed experiments on the heat consequent on the passage of Voltaic electricity through electrolytes, and found, in all cases, that the heat evolved by the proper action of any Voltaic current is proportional to the square of the intensity of that current, multiplied by the resistance to conduction which it experiences. From this law he deduced a number of conclusions of the highest importance to electro-chemistry.

It was during these inquiries, which are marked throughout by rare sagacity and originality, that the great idea of ' establishing quantitative relations between Mechanical Energy and Heat arose and assumed definite form in his mind. In 1843 Mr. Joule read before the meeting of the British Association at Cork a paper "On the Calorific Effects of Magneto-Electricity, and on the Mechanical Value of Heat." Even at the present day this memoir is tough reading, and at the time it was written it must have appeared hopelessly entangled. This, I should think, was the reason why Faraday advised Mr. Joule not to submit the paper to the Royal Society. But its drift and results are summed up in these memorable words by its author, written some time subsequently: "In that paper it was demonstrated, experimentally, that the mechanical power exerted in turning a magneto-electric machine is converted into the heat evolved by the passage of the currents of induction through its coils; and, on the other hand, that the motive power of the electro-magnetic engine is obtained at the expense of the heat due to the chemical reaction of the battery by which it is worked."' It is needless to dwell upon the weight and importance of this statement.

Considering the imperfections incidental to a first determination, it is not surprising that the "mechanical values of heat," deduced from the different series of experiments published in 1843, varied widely from each other. The lowest limit was 587 and the highest 1,026 foot-pounds, for 1 Fahr. of temperature.

One noteworthy result of his inquiries, which was pointed out at the time by Mr. Joule, had reference to the exceedingly small fraction of the heat actually converted into useful effect in the steam-engine. The thoughts of the celebrated Julius Robert Mayer, who was then en-gaged in Germany upon the same question, had moved independently in the same groove; but to his labors due reference will be made on a future occasion.' In the memoir now referred to, Mr. Joule also announced that he had proved heat to be evolved during the passage of water through narrow tubes; and he deduced from these experiments an equivalent of 770 foot-pounds, a figure remarkably near the one now accepted. A detached statement regarding the origin and convertibility of animal heat strikingly illustrates the penetration of Mr. Joule, and his mastery of principles, at the period now referred to., A friend had mentioned to him Haller's hypothesis, that animal heat might arise from the friction of the blood in the veins and arteries. "It is unquestionable," writes Mr. Joule, "that heat is produced by such friction; but it must be understood that the mechanical force expended in the friction is a part of the force of affinity which causes the venous blood to unite with oxygen, so that the whole heat of the system must still be referred to the chemical changes. But if the animal were engaged in turning a piece of machinery, or in ascending a mountain, I apprehend that in proportion to the muscular effort put forth for the purpose, a diminution of the heat evolved in the system by a given chemical action would be experienced." The italics in this memorable passage, written, it is to be remembered, in 1843, are Mr. Joule's own.

The concluding paragraph of this British Association paper equally illustrates his insight and precision regarding the nature of chemical and latent heat. "I had," he writes, "endeavored to prove that when two atoms combine together, the heat evolved is exactly that which would have been evolved by the electrical current due to the chemical action taking place, and is therefore proportional to the intensity of the chemical force ea-using the atoms to combine. I now venture to state more explicitly that it is not precisely the attraction of affinity, but rather the mechanical force expended by the atoms in falling toward one another, which determines the intensity of the current, and, consequently, the quantity of heat evolved; so that we have a simple hypothesis by which we may explain why heat is evolved so freely in the combination of gases, and by which indeed we may account `latent heat' as a mechanical power, prepared for action, as a watch-spring is when wound up. Suppose, for the sake of illustration, that 8 lbs. of oxygen and 1 lb. of hydrogen were presented to one another in the gaseous state, and then exploded; the heat evolved would be about 1 Fahr. in 60,000 lbs. of water, indicating a mechanical force, expended in the combination, equal to a weight of about 50,000,000 lbs. raised to the height of one foot. Now if the oxygen and hydrogen could be presented to each other in a liquid state, the heat of combination would be less than before, because the atoms in combining would fall through less space." No words of mine are needed to point out the commanding grasp of molecular physics, in their relation to the mechanical theory of heat, implied by this statement.

Perfectly assured of the importance of the principle which his experiments aimed at establishing, Mr. Joule did not rest content with results presenting such discrepancies as those above referred to. He resorted in 1844 to entirely new methods, and made elaborate experiments on the thermal changes produced in air during its expansion: first, against a pressure, and therefore performing work; secondly, against no pressure, and therefore per-forming no work. He thus established anew the relation between the heat consumed and the work done. From five different series of experiments he deduced five different mechanical equivalents; the agreement between them being far greater than that attained in his first experiments. The mean of them was 802 foot-pounds. From experiments with water agitated by a paddle-wheel, he deduced, in 1845, an equivalent of 890 foot-pounds. In 1847 he again operated upon water and sperm-oil, agitated them by a paddle-wheel, determined their elevation of temperature, and the mechanical power which produced it. From the one he derived an equivalent of 781.5 foot-pounds; from the other an equivalent of 782.1 foot-pounds. The mean of these two very close determinations is 781.8 foot-pounds.

By this time the labors of the previous ten years had made Mr. Joule completely master of the conditions essential to accuracy and success. Bringing his ripened experience to bear upon the subject, he executed, in 1849, a series of 40 experiments on the friction of water, 50 experiments on the friction of mercury, and 20 experiments on the friction of plates of cast iron. He deduced from these experiments our present mechanical equivalent of heat, justly recognized all over the world as "Joule's equivalent."

There are labors so great and so pregnant in consequences that they are most highly praised when the are most simply stated. Such are the labors of Mr. Joule. They constitute the experimental foundation of a principle of incalculable moment, not only to the practice, but still more to the philosophy of Science. Since the days of Newton, nothing more important than the theory, of which Mr. Joule is the experimental demonstrator, has been enunciated.

I have omitted all reference to the numerous minor papers with which Mr. Joule has enriched scientific literature. Nor have I alluded to the important investigations which he has conducted jointly with Sir William Thomson. But sufficient, I think, has been here said to show that, in conferring upon Mr. Joule the highest honor of the Royal Society, the Council paid to genius not only a well-won tribute, but one which had been fairly earned twenty years previously.'

Lord Beaconsfield has recently honored himself and England by bestowing an annual pension of 200L on Dr. Joule.



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