Fragments of science, V. 1-2
by John Tyndall
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VOL. 1.



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1. Visible and Invisible Radiation.

2. Origin and Character of Radiation. The Aether.

3. The Atomic Theory in reference to the Aether.

4. Absorption of Radiant Heat by Gases.

5. Formation of Invisible Foci.

6. Visible and Invisible Rays of the Electric Light.

Figure 1 Spectrum of Electric Light.

7. Combustion by Invisible Rays.

8. Transmutation of Rays: Calorescence.

9. Deadness of the Optic Nerve to the Calorific Rays.

10. Persistence of Rays.

11. Absorption of Radiant Heat by Vapours and Odours.

12. Aqueous Vapour in relation to the Terrestrial Temperatures.

13. Liquids and their Vapours in relation to Radiant Heat.

14. Reciprocity of Radiation and Absorption.

15. Influence of Vibrating Period and Molecular Form.

Physical Analysis of the Human Breath.

16. Summary and Conclusion.




Physical Considerations.

Production of Sky-blue by the Decomposition of Nitrite of Amyl.




Experiments on Dusty Air.

The Germ Theory of Contagious Disease.

Parasitic Diseases of Silkworms. Pasteur's Researches.

Origin and Propagation of Contagious Matter.

The Germ Theory applied to Surgery.

The Luminous beam as a means of Research.

The Floating Matter of the Air.

Dr. Bennett's Experiments.

Application of Luminous beams to Water.

Chalk-water. Clark's Softening Process.

Cotton-wool Respirator.

Fireman's Respirator.

Helmholtz on Hay Fever.







































TO AVOID unwieldiness of bulk this edition of the 'Fragments' is published in two volumes, instead of, as heretofore, in one.

The first volume deals almost exclusively with the laws and phenomena of matter. The second trenches upon questions in which the phenomena of matter interlace more or less with those of mind.

New Essays have been added, while old ones have been revised, and in part recast. To be clear, without being superficial, has been my aim throughout.

In neither volume have I aspired to sit in the seat of the scornful, but rather to treat the questions touched upon with a tolerance, if not a reverence, befitting their difficulty and weight.

Holding, as I do, the nebular hypothesis, I am logically bound to deduce the life of the world from forces inherent in the nebula. With this view, which is set forth in the second volume, it seemed but fair to associate the reasons which cause me to conclude that every attempt made in our day to generate life independently of antecedent life has utterly broken down.

A discourse on the Electric Light winds up the Second volume. The incongruity of its position is to be referred to the lateness of its delivery.




[Footnote: 'Fortnightly Review,' 1865, vol. iii. p. 129.]

WE cannot think of space as finite, for wherever in imagination we erect a boundary, we are compelled to think of space as existing beyond it. Thus by the incessant dissolution of limits we arrive at a more or less adequate idea of the infinity of space. But, though compelled to think of space as unbounded, there is no mental necessity compelling us to think of it either as filled or empty; whether it is so or not must be decided by experiment and observation. That it is not entirely void, the starry heavens declare; but the question still remains, Are the stars themselves hung in vacuo? Are the vast regions which surround them, and across which their light is propagated, absolutely empty? A century ago the answer to this question, founded on the Newtonian theory, would have been, 'No, for particles of light are incessantly shot through space.' The reply of modern science is also negative, but on different grounds. It has the best possible reasons for rejecting the idea of luminiferous particles; but, in support of the conclusion that the celestial spaces are occupied by matter, it is able to offer proofs almost as cogent as those which can be adduced of the existence of an atmosphere round the earth. Men's minds, indeed, rose to a conception of the celestial and universal atmosphere through the study of the terrestrial and local one. From the phenomena of sound, as displayed in the air, they ascended to the phenomena of light, as displayed in the aether; which is the name given to the interstellar medium.

The notion of this medium must not be considered as a vague or fanciful conception on the part of scientific men. Of its reality most of them are as convinced as they are of the existence of the sun and moon. The luminiferous aether has definite mechanical properties. It is almost infinitely more attenuated than any known gas, but its properties are those of a solid rather than of a gas. It resembles jelly rather than air. This was not the first conception of the aether, but it is that forced upon us by a more complete knowledge of its phenomena. A body thus constituted may have its boundaries; but, although the aether may not be co-extensive with space, it must at all events extend as far as the most distant visible stars. In fact it is the vehicle of their light, and without it they could not be seen. This all-pervading substance takes up their molecular tremors, and conveys them with inconceivable rapidity to our organs of vision. It is the transported shiver of bodies countless millions of miles distant, which translates itself in human consciousness into the splendour of the firmament at night.

If the aether have a boundary, masses of ponderable matter might be conceived to exist beyond it, but they could emit no light. Beyond the aether dark suns might burn; there, under proper conditions, combustion might be carried on; fuel might consume unseen, and metals be fused in invisible fires. A body, moreover, once heated there, would continue for ever heated; a sun or planet once molten, would continue for ever molten. For, the loss of heat being simply the abstraction of molecular motion by the aether, where this medium is absent no cooling could occur. A sentient being on approaching a heated body in this region, would be conscious of no augmentation of temperature. The gradations of warmth dependent on the laws of radiation would not exist, and actual contact would first reveal the heat of an extra ethereal sun.

Imagine a paddle-wheel placed in water and caused to rotate. From it, as a centre, waves would issue in all directions, and a wader as he approached the place of disturbance would be met by stronger and stronger waves. This gradual augmentation of the impression made upon the wader is exactly analogous to the augmentation of light when we approach a luminous source. In the one case, however, the coarse common nerves of the body suffice; for the other we must have the finer optic nerve. But suppose the water withdrawn; the action at a distance would then cease, and, as far as the sense of touch is concerned, the wader would be first rendered conscious of the motion of the wheel by the blow of the paddles. The transference of motion from the paddles to the water is mechanically similar to the transference of molecular motion from the heated body to the aether; and the propagation of waves through the liquid is mechanically similar to the propagation of light and radiant heat.

As far as our knowledge of space extends, we are to conceive it as the holder of the luminiferous aether, through which are interspersed, at enormous distances apart, the ponderous nuclei of the stars. Associated with the star that most concerns us we have a group of dark planetary masses revolving at various distances round it, each again rotating on its own axis; and, finally, associated with some of these planets we have dark bodies of minor note—the moons. Whether the other fixed stars have similar planetary companions or not is to us a matter of pure conjecture, which may or may not enter into our conception of the universe. But probably every thoughtful person believes, with regard to those distant suns, that there is, in space, something besides our system on which they shine.

From this general view of the present condition of space, and of the bodies contained in it, we pass to the enquiry whether things were so created at the beginning. Was space furnished at once, by the fiat of Omnipotence, with these burning orbs? In presence of the revelations of science this view is fading more and more. Behind the orbs, we now discern the nebulae from which they have been condensed. And without going so far back as the nebulae, the man of science can prove that out of common non-luminous matter this whole pomp of stars might have been evolved.

The law of gravitation enunciated by Newton is, that every particle of matter in the universe attracts every other particle with a force which diminishes as the square of the distance increases. Thus the sun and the earth mutually pull each other; thus the earth and the moon are kept in company, the force which holds every respective pair of masses together being the integrated force of their component parts. Under the operation of this force a stone falls to the ground and is warmed by the shock; under its operation meteors plunge into our atmosphere mid rise to incandescence. Showers of such meteors doubtless fall incessantly upon the sun. Acted on by this force, the earth, were it stopped in its orbit to-morrow, would rush towards, and finally combine with, the sun. Heat would also be developed by this collision. Mayer first, and Helmholtz and Thomson afterwards, have calculated its amount. It would equal that produced by the combustion of more than 5,000 worlds of solid coal, all this heat being generated at the instant of collision. In the attraction of gravity, therefore, acting upon non-luminous matter, we have a source of heat more powerful than could be derived from any terrestrial combustion. And were the matter of the universe thrown in cold detached fragments into space, and there abandoned to the mutual gravitation of its own parts, the collision of the fragments would in the end produce the fires of the stars.

The action of gravity upon matter originally cold may, in fact, be the origin of all light and heat, and also the proximate source of such other powers as are generated by light and heat. But we have now to enquire what is the light and what is the heat thus produced? This question has already been answered in a general way. Both light and heat are modes of motion. Two planets clash and come to rest; their motion, considered as that of masses, is destroyed, but it is in great part continued as a motion of their ultimate particles. It is this latter motion, taken up by the rather, and propagated through it with a velocity of 186,000 miles a second, that comes to its as the light and heat of suns and stars. The atoms of a hot body swing with inconceivable rapidity—billions of times in a second—but this power of vibration necessarily implies the operation of forces between the atoms themselves. It reveals to us that while they are held together by one force, they are kept asunder by another, their position at any moment depending on the equilibrium of attraction and repulsion. The atoms behave as if connected by elastic springs, which oppose at the same time their approach and their retreat, but which tolerate the vibration called heat. The molecular vibration once set up is instantly shared with the aether, and diffused by it throughout space.

We on the earth's surface live night and day in the midst of aethereal commotion. The medium is never still. The cloud canopy above us may be thick enough to shut out the light of the stars; but this canopy is itself a warm body, which radiates its thermal motion through the aether. The earth also is warm, and sends its heat-pulses incessantly forth. It is the waste of its molecular motion in space that chills the earth upon a clear night; it is the return of thermal motion from the clouds which prevents the earth's temperature, on a cloudy night, from falling so low. To the conception of space being filled, we must therefore add the conception of its being in a state of incessant tremor.

The sources of this vibration are the ponderable masses of the universe. Let us take a sample of these and examine it in detail. When we look to our planet, we find it to be an aggregate of solids, liquids, and gases. Subjected to a sufficiently low temperature, the two last, would also assume the solid form. When we look at any one of these, we generally find it composed of still more elementary parts. We learn, for example, that the water of our rivers is formed by the union, in definite proportions, of two gases, oxygen and hydrogen. We know how to bring these constituents together, so as to form water: we also know how to analyse the water, and recover from it its two constituents. So, likewise, as regards the solid portions of the earth. Our chalk hills, for example, are formed by a combination of carbon, oxygen, and calcium. These are the so-called elements the union of which, in definite proportions, has resulted in the formation of chalk. The flints within the chalk we know to be a compound of oxygen and silicium, called silica; and our ordinary clay is, for the most part, formed by the union of silicium, oxygen, and the well-known light metal, aluminium. By far the greater portion of the earth's crust is compounded of the elementary substances mentioned in these few lines.

The principle of gravitation has been already described as an attraction which every particle of matter, however small, exerts on every other particle. With gravity there is no selection; no particular atoms choose, by preference, other particular atoms as objects of attraction; the attraction of gravitation is proportional simply to the quantity of the attracting matter, regardless of its quality. But in the molecular world which we have now entered matters are otherwise arranged. Here we have atoms between which a strong attraction is exercised, and also atoms between which a weak attraction is exercised. One atom can jostle another out of its place in virtue of a superior force of attraction. But, though the amount of force exerted varies thus from atom to atom, it is still an attraction of the same mechanical quality, if I may use the term, as that of gravity itself. Its intensity might be measured in the same way, namely by the amount of motion which it can generate in a certain time. Thus the attraction of gravity at the earth's surface is expressed by the number 32; because, when acting freely on a body for a second of time, gravity imparts to the body a velocity of thirty-two feet a second. In like manner the mutual attraction of oxygen and hydrogen might be measured by the velocity imparted to the atoms in their rushing together. Of course such a unit of time as a second is not here to be thought of, the whole interval required by the atoms to cross the minute spaces which separate them amounting only to an inconceivably small fraction of a second.

It has been stated that when a body falls to the earth it is warmed by the shock. Here, to use the terminology of Mayer, we have a mechanical combination of the earth and the body. Let us suffer the falling body and the earth to dwindle in imagination to the size of atoms, and for the attraction of gravity let us substitute that of chemical affinity; we have then what is called a chemical combination. The effect of the union in this case also is the development of heat, and from the amount of heat generated we can infer the intensity of the atomic pull. Measured by ordinary mechanical standards, this is enormous. Mix eight pounds of oxygen with one of hydrogen, and pass a spark through the mixture; the gases instantly combine, their atoms rushing over the little distances which separate them. Take a weight of 47,000 pounds to an elevation of 1,000 feet above the earth's surface, and let it fall; the energy with which it will strike the earth will not exceed that of the eight pounds of oxygen atoms, as they dash against one pound of hydrogen atoms to form water.

It is sometimes stated that gravity is distinguished from all other forces by the fact of its resisting conversion into other forms of force. Chemical affinity, it is said, can be converted into heat and light, and these again into magnetism and electricity: but gravity refuses to be so converted; being a force maintaining itself under all circumstances, and not capable of disappearing to give place to another. The statement arises from vagueness of thought. If by it be meant that a particle of matter can never be deprived of its weight, the assertion is correct; but the law which affirms the convertibility of natural forces was never intended, in the minds of those who understood it, to affirm that such a conversion as that here implied occurs in any case whatever. As regards convertibility into heat, gravity and chemical affinity stand on precisely the same footing. The attraction in the one case is as indestructible as in the other. Nobody affirms that when a stone rests upon the surface of the earth, the mutual attraction of the earth and stone is abolished; nobody means to affirm that the mutual attraction of oxygen for hydrogen ceases, after the atoms have combined to form water. What is meant, in the case of chemical affinity, is, that the pull of that affinity, acting through a certain space, imparts a motion of translation of the one atom towards the other. This motion is not heat, nor is the force that produces it heat. But when the atoms strike and recoil, the motion of translation is converted into a motion of vibration, which is heat. The vibration, however, so far from causing the extinction of the original attraction, is in part carried on by that attraction. The atoms recoil, in virtue of the elastic force which opposes actual contact, and in the recoil they are driven too far back. The original attraction then triumphs over the force of recoil, and urges the atoms once more together. Thus, like a pendulum, they oscillate, until their motion is imparted to the surrounding aether; or, in other words, until their heat becomes radiant heat.

In this sense, and in this sense only, is chemical affinity converted into heat. There is, first of all, the attraction between the atoms; there is, secondly, space between them. Across this space the attraction urges them. They collide, they recoil, they oscillate. There is here a change in the form of the motion, but there is no real loss. It is so with the attraction of gravity. To produce motion by gravity space must also intervene between the attracting bodies. When they strike together motion is apparently destroyed, but in reality there is no destruction. Their atoms are suddenly urged together by the shock; by their own perfect elasticity these atoms recoil; and thus is set up the molecular oscillation which, when communicated to the proper nerves, announces itself as heat.

It was formerly universally supposed that by the collision of unelastic bodies force was destroyed. Men saw, for example, that when two spheres of clay, painter's putty, or lead for example, were urged together, the motion possessed by the masses, prior to impact, was more or less annihilated. They believed in an absolute destruction of the force of impact. Until recent times, indeed, no difficulty was experienced in believing this, whereas, at present, the ideas of force and its destruction refuse to be united in most philosophic minds. In the collision of elastic bodies, on the contrary, it was observed that the motion with which they clashed together was in great part restored by the resiliency of the masses, the more perfect the elasticity the more complete being the restitution. This led to the idea of perfectly elastic bodies—bodies competent to restore by their recoil the whole of the motion which they possessed before impact—and this again to the idea of the conservation of force, as opposed to that destruction of force which was supposed to occur when unelastic bodies met in collision.

We now know that the principle of conservation holds equally good with elastic and unelastic bodies. Perfectly elastic bodies would develop no heat on collision. They would retain their motion afterwards, though its direction might be changed; and it is only when sensible motion is wholly or partly destroyed, that heat is generated. This always occurs in unelastic collision, the heat developed being the exact equivalent of the sensible motion extinguished. This heat virtually declares that the property of elasticity, denied to the masses, exists among their atoms; by the recoil and oscillation of which the principle of conservation is vindicated.

But ambiguity in the use of the term 'force' makes itself more and more felt as we proceed. We have called the attraction of gravity a force, without any reference to motion. A body resting on a shelf is as much pulled by gravity as when, after having been pushed off the shelf, it falls towards the earth. We applied the term force also to that molecular attraction which we called chemical affinity. When, however, we spoke of the conservation of force, in the case of elastic collision, we meant neither a pull nor a push, which, as just indicated, might be exerted upon inert matter, but we meant force invested in motion—the vis viva, as it is called, of the colliding masses.

Force in this form has a definite mechanical measure, in the amount of work that it can perform. The simplest form of work is the raising of a weight. A man walking up-hill, or up-stairs, with a pound weight in his hand, to an elevation say of sixteen feet, performs a certain amount of work, over and above the lifting of his own body. If he carries the pound to a height of thirty-two feet, he does twice the work; if to a height of forty-eight feet, he does three times the work; if to sixty-four feet, he does four times the work, and so on. If, moreover, he carries up two pounds instead of one, other things being equal, he does twice the work; if three, four, or five pounds, he does three, four, or five times the work. In fact, it is plain that the work performed depends on two factors, the weight raised and the height to which it is raised. It is expressed by the product of these two factors.

But a body may be caused to reach a certain elevation in opposition to the force of gravity, without being actually carried up. If a hodman, for example, wished to land a brick at an elevation of sixteen feet above the place where he stood, he would probably pitch it up to the bricklayer. He would thus impart, by a sudden effort, a velocity to the brick sufficient to raise it to the required height; the work accomplished by that effort being precisely the same as if he had slowly carried up the brick. The initial velocity to be imparted, in this case, is well known. To reach a height of sixteen feet, the brick must quit the man's hand with a velocity of thirty-two feet a second. It is needless to say, that a body starting with any velocity, would, if wholly unopposed or unaided, continue to move for ever with the same velocity. But when, as in the case before us, the body is thrown upwards, it moves in opposition to gravity, which incessantly retards its motion, and finally brings it to rest at an elevation of sixteen feet. If not here caught by the bricklayer, it would return to the hodman with an accelerated motion, and reach his hand with the precise velocity it possessed on quitting it.

An important relation between velocity and work is here to be pointed out. Supposing the hodman competent to impart to the brick, at starting, a velocity of sixty-four feet a second, or twice its former velocity, would the amount of work performed be twice what it was in the first instance? No; it would be four times that quantity; for a body starting with twice the velocity of another, will rise to four times the height. In like manner, a three-fold velocity will give a nine-fold elevation, a four-fold velocity will give a sixteen-fold elevation, and so on. The height attained, then, is not proportional to the initial velocity, but to the square of the velocity. As before, the work is also proportional to the weight elevated. Hence the work which any moving mass whatever is competent to perform, in virtue of the motion which it at any moment possesses, is jointly proportional to its weight and the square of its velocity. Here, then, we have a second measure of work-, in which we simply translate the idea of height into its equivalent idea of motion.

In mechanics, the product of the mass of a moving body into the square of its velocity, expresses what is called the vis viva, or living force. It is also sometimes called the 'mechanical effect.' If, for example, a cannon pointed to the zenith urge a ball upwards with twice the velocity imparted to a second ball, the former will rise to four times the height attained by the latter. If directed against a target, it will also do four times the execution. Hence the importance of imparting a high velocity to projectiles in war. Having thus cleared our way to a perfectly definite conception of the vis viva of moving masses, we are prepared for the announcement that the heat generated by the shock of a falling body against the earth is proportional to the vis viva annihilated. The heat is proportional to the square of the velocity. In the case, therefore, of two cannon-balls of equal weight, if one strike a target with twice the velocity of the other, it will generate four times the heat, if with three times the velocity, it will generate nine times the heat, and so on.

Mr. Joule has shown that a pound weight falling from a height of 772 feet, or 772 pounds falling through one foot, will generate by its collision with the earth an amount of heat sufficient to raise a pound of water one degree Fahrenheit in temperature. 772 "foot-pounds" constitute the mechanical equivalent of heat. Now, a body falling from a height of 772 feet, has, upon striking the earth, a velocity of 223 feet a second; and if this velocity were imparted to the body, by any other means, the quantity of heat generated by the stoppage of its motion would be that stated above. Six times that velocity, or 1,338 feet, would not be an inordinate one for a cannon-ball as it quits the gun. Hence, a cannon-ball moving with a velocity of 1,338 feet a second, would, by collision, generate an amount of heat competent to raise its own weight of water 36 degrees Fahrenheit in temperature. If composed of iron, and if all the heat generated were concentrated in the ball itself, its temperature would be raised about 360 degrees Fahrenheit; because one degree in the case of water is equivalent to about ten degrees in the case of iron. In artillery practice, the heat generated is usually concentrated upon the front of the bolt, and on the portion of the target first struck. By this concentration the heat developed becomes sufficiently intense to raise the dust of the metal to incandescence, a flash of light often accompanying collision with the target.

Let us now fix our attention for a moment on the gunpowder which urges the cannon-ball. This is composed of combustible matter, which if burnt in the open air would yield a certain amount of heat. It will not yield this amount if it perform the work of urging a ball. The heat then generated by the gunpowder will fall short of that produced in the open air, by an amount equivalent to the vis viva of the ball; and this exact amount is restored by the ball on its collision with the target. In this perfect way are heat and mechanical motion connected.

Broadly enunciated, the principle of the conservation of force asserts, that the quantity of force in the universe is as unalterable as the quantity of matter; that it is alike impossible to create force and to annihilate it. But in what sense are we to understand this assertion? It would be manifestly inapplicable to the force of gravity as defined by Newton; for this is a force varying inversely as the square of the distance; and to affirm the constancy of a varying force would be self-contradictory. Yet, when the question is properly understood, gravity forms no exception to the law of conservation. Following the method pursued by Helmholtz, I will here attempt an elementary exposition of this law. Though destined in its applications to produce momentous changes in human thought, it is not difficult of comprehension.

For the sake of simplicity we will consider a particle of matter, which we may call F, to be perfectly fixed, and a second movable particle, D, placed at a distance from F. We will assume that these two particles attract each other according to the Newtonian law. At a certain distance, the attraction is of a certain definite amount, which might be determined by means of a spring balance. At half this distance the attraction would be augmented four times; at a third of the distance, nine times; at one-fourth of the distance, sixteen times, and so on. In every case, the attraction might be measured by determining, with the spring balance, the amount of tension just sufficient to prevent D from moving towards F. Thus far we have nothing whatever to do with motion; we deal with statics, not with dynamics. We simply take into account the distance of D from F, and the pull exerted by gravity at that distance.

It is customary in mechanics to represent the magnitude of a force by a line of a certain length, a force of double magnitude being represented by a line of double length, and so on. Placing then the particle D at a distance from F, we can, in imagination, draw a straight line from D to F, and at D erect a perpendicular to this line, which shall represent the amount of the attraction exerted on D. If D be at a very great distance from F, the attraction will be very small, and the perpendicular consequently very short. If the distance be practically infinite, the attraction is practically nil. Let us now suppose at every point in the line joining F and D a perpendicular to be erected, proportional in length to the attraction exerted at that point; we thus obtain an infinite number of perpendiculars, of gradually increasing length, as D approaches F. Uniting the ends of all these perpendiculars, we obtain a curve, and between this curve and the straight line joining F and D we have an area containing all the perpendiculars placed side by side. Each one of this infinite series of perpendiculars representing an attraction, or tension, as it is sometimes called, the area just referred to represents the sum of the tensions exerted upon the particle D, during its passage from its first position to F.

Up to the present point we have been dealing with tensions, not with motion. Thus far vis viva has been entirely foreign to our contemplation of D and F. Let us now suppose D placed at a practically infinite distance from F; here, as stated, the pull of gravity would be infinitely small, and the perpendicular representing it would dwindle almost to a point. In this position the sum of the tensions capable of being exerted on D would be a maximum. Let D now begin to move in obedience to the infinitesimal attraction exerted upon it. Motion being once set up, the idea of vis viva arises. In moving towards F the particle D consumes, as it were, the tensions. Let us fix our attention on D, at any point of the path over which it is moving. Between that point and F there is a quantity of unused tensions; beyond that point the tensions have been all consumed, but we have in their place an equivalent quantity of vis viva. After D has passed any point, the tension previously in store at that point disappears, but not without having added, during the infinitely small duration of its action, a due amount of motion to that previously possessed by D. The nearer D approaches to F, the smaller is the sum of the tensions remaining, but the greater is the vis viva; the farther D is from F, the greater is the sum of the unconsumed tensions, and the less is the living force. Now the principle of conservation affirms not the constancy of the value of the tensions of gravity, nor yet the constancy of the vis viva, taken separately, but the absolute constancy of the value of both taken together. At the beginning the vis viva was zero, and the tension area was a maximum; close to F the vis viva is a maximum, while the tension area is zero. At every other point, the work-producing power of the particle D consists in part of vis viva, and in part of tensions.

If gravity, instead of being attraction, were repulsion, then, with the particles in contact, the sum of the tensions between D and F would be a maximum, and the vis viva zero. If, in obedience to the repulsion, D moved away from F, vis viva would be generated; and the farther D retreated from F the greater would be its vis viva, and the less the amount of tension still available for producing motion. Taking repulsion as well as attraction into account, the principle of the conservation of force affirms that the mechanical value of the tensions and vires vivae of the material universe, so far as we know it, is a constant quantity. The universe, in short, possesses two kinds of property which are mutually convertible. The diminution of either carries with it the enhancement of the other, the total value of the property remaining unchanged.

The considerations here applied to gravity apply equally to chemical affinity. Ina mixture of oxygen and hydrogen the atoms exist apart, but by the application of proper means they may be caused to rush together across that space that separates them. While this space exists, and as long as the atoms have not begun to move towards each other, we have tensions and nothing else. During their motion towards each other the tensions, as in the case of gravity, are converted into vis viva. After they clash we have still vis viva, but in another form. It was translation, it is vibration. It was molecular transfer, it is heat.

It is possible to reverse these processes, to unlock the combined atoms and replace them in their first positions. But, to accomplish this, as much heat would be required as was generated by their union. Such reversals occur daily and hourly in nature. By the solar waves, the oxygen of water is divorced from its hydrogen in the leaves of plants. As molecular vis viva the waves disappear, but in so doing they re-endow the atoms of oxygen and hydrogen with tension. The atoms are thus enabled to recombine, and when they do so they restore the precise amount of heat consumed in their separation. The same remarks apply to the compound of carbon and oxygen, called carbonic acid, which is exhaled from our lungs, produced by our fires, and found sparingly diffused everywhere throughout the air. In the leaves of plants the sunbeams also wrench the atoms of carbonic acid asunder, and sacrifice themselves in the act; but when the plants are burnt, the amount of heat consumed in their production is restored.

This, then, is the rhythmic play of Nature as regards her forces. Throughout all her regions she oscillates from tension to vis viva, from vis viva to tension. We have the same play in the planetary system. The earth's orbit is an ellipse, one of the foci of which is occupied by the sun. Imagine the earth at the most distant part of the orbit. Her motion, and consequently her vis viva, is then a minimum. The planet rounds the curve, and begins its approach to the sun. In front it has a store of tensions, which are gradually consumed, an equivalent amount of vis viva being generated. When nearest to the sun the motion, and consequently the vis viva, reach a maximum. But here the available tensions have been used up. The earth rounds this portion of the curve and retreats from the sun. Tensions are now stored up, but vis viva is lost, to be again restored at the expense of the complementary force on the opposite side of the curve. Thus beats the heart of the universe, but without increase or diminution of its total stock of force.

I have thus far tried to steer clear amid confusion, by fixing the mind of the reader upon things rather than upon names. But good names are essential; and here, as yet, we are not provided with such. We have had the force of gravity and living force—two utterly distinct things. We have had pulls and tensions; and we might have had the force of heat, the force of light, the force of magnetism, or the force of electricity—all of which terms have been employed more or less loosely by writers on physics. This confusion is happily avoided by the introduction of the term 'energy,' which embraces both tension and vis viva. Energy is possessed by bodies already in motion; it is then actual, and we agree to call it actual or dynamic energy. It is our old vis viva. On the other hand, energy is possible to bodies not in motion, but which, in virtue of attraction or repulsion, possess a power of motion which would realise itself if all hindrances were removed. Looking, for example, at gravity; a body on the earth's surface in a position from which it cannot fall to a lower one possesses no energy. It has neither motion nor power of motion. But the same body suspended at a height above the earth has a power of motion, though it may not have exercised it. Energy is possible to such a body, and we agree to call this potential energy. It consists of our old tensions. We, moreover, speak of the conservation of energy, instead of the conservation of force; and say that the sum of the potential and dynamic energies of the material universe is a constant quantity.

A body cast upwards consumes the actual energy of projection, and lays up potential energy. When it reaches its utmost height all its actual energy is consumed, its potential energy being then a maximum. When it returns, there is a reconversion of the potential into the actual. A pendulum at the limit of its swing possesses potential energy; at the lowest point of its arc its energy is all actual. A patch of snow resting on a mountain slope has potential energy; loosened, and shooting down as an avalanche, it possesses dynamic energy. The pine-trees growing on the Alps have potential energy; but rushing down the Holzrinne of the woodcutters they possess actual energy. The same is true of the mountains themselves. As long as the rocks which compose them can fall to a lower level, they possess potential energy, which is converted into actual when the frost ruptures their cohesion and hands them over to the action of gravity. The stone avalanches of the Matterhorn and Weisshorn are illustrations in point. The hammer of the great bell of Westminster, when raised before striking, possesses potential energy; when it falls, the energy becomes dynamic; and after the stroke, we have the rhythmic play of potential and dynamic in the vibrations of the bell. The same holds good for the molecular oscillations of a heated body. An atom is driven against its neighbour, and recoils. The ultimate amplitude of the recoil being attained, the motion of the atom in that direction is checked, and for an instant its energy is all potential. It is then drawn towards its neighbour with accelerated speed; thus, by attraction, converting its potential into dynamic energy. Its motion in this direction is also finally checked, and again, for an instant, its energy is all potential. It once more retreats, converting, by repulsion, its potential into dynamic energy, till the latter attains a maximum, after which it is again changed into potential energy. Thus, what is true of the earth, as she swings to and fro in her yearly journey round the sun, is also true of her minutest atom. We have wheels within wheels, and rhythm within rhythm.

When a body is heated, a change of molecular arrangement always occurs, and to produce this change heat is consumed. Hence, a portion only of the heat communicated to the body remains as dynamic energy. Looking back on some of the statements made at the beginning of this article, now that our knowledge is more extensive, we see the necessity of qualifying them. When, for example, two bodies clash, heat is generated; but the heat, or molecular dynamic energy, developed at the moment of collision, is not the exact equivalent of the sensible dynamic energy destroyed. The true equivalent is this heat, plus the potential energy conferred upon the molecules by the placing of greater distances between them. This molecular potential energy is afterwards, on the cooling of the body, converted into heat.

Wherever two atoms capable of uniting together by their mutual attractions exist separately, they form a store of potential energy. Thus our woods, forests, and coal-fields on the one hand, and our atmospheric oxygen on the other, constitute a vast store of energy of this kind—vast, but far from infinite. We have, besides our coal-fields, metallic bodies more or less sparsely distributed through the earth's crust. These bodies can be oxydised; and hence they are, so far as they go, stores of energy. But the attractions of the great mass of the earth's crust are already satisfied, and from them no further energy can possibly be obtained. Ages ago the elementary constituents of our rocks clashed together and produced the motion of heat, which was taken up by the aether and carried away through stellar space. It is lost for ever as far as we are concerned. In those ages the hot conflict of carbon, oxygen, and calcium produced the chalk and limestone bills which are now cold; and from this carbon, oxygen, and calcium no further energy can be derived. So it is with almost all the other constituents of the earth's crust. They took their present form in obedience to molecular force; they turned their potential energy into dynamic, and yielded it as radiant heat to the universe, ages before man appeared upon this planet. For him a residue of potential energy remains, vast, truly, in relation to the life and wants of an individual, but exceedingly minute in comparison with the earth's primitive store.

To sum up. The whole stock of energy or working-power in the world consists of attractions, repulsions, and motions. If the attractions and repulsions be so circumstanced as to be able to produce motion, they are sources of working-power, but not otherwise. As stated a moment ago, the attraction exerted between the earth and a body at a distance from the earth's surface, is a source of working-power; because the body can be moved by the attraction, and in falling can perform work. When it rests at its lowest level it is not a source of power or energy, because it can fall no farther. But though it has ceased to be a source of energy, the attraction of gravity still acts as a force, which holds the earth and weight together.

The same remarks apply to attracting atoms and molecules. As long as distance separates them, they can move across it in obedience to the attraction; and the motion thus produced may, by proper appliances, be caused to perform mechanical work. When, for example, two atoms of hydrogen unite with one of oxygen, to form water, the atoms are first drawn towards each other—they move, they clash, and then by virtue of their resiliency, they recoil and quiver. To this quivering motion we give the name of heat. This atomic vibration is merely the redistribution of the motion produced by the chemical affinity; and this is the only sense in which chemical affinity can be said to be converted into heat. We must not imagine the chemical attraction destroyed, or converted into anything else. For the atoms, when mutually clasped to form a molecule of water, are held together by the very attraction which first drew them towards each other. That which has really been expended is the pull exerted through the space by which the distance between the atoms has been diminished.

If this be understood, it will be at once seen that gravity, as before insisted on, may, in this sense, be said to be convertible into heat; that it is in reality no more an outstanding and inconvertible agent, as it is sometimes stated to be, than is chemical affinity. By the exertion of a certain pull through a certain space, a body is caused to clash with a certain definite velocity against the earth. Heat is thereby developed, and this is the only sense in which gravity can be said to be converted into heat. In no case is the force, which produces the motion annihilated or changed into anything else. The mutual attraction of the earth and weight exists when they are in contact, as when they were separate but the ability of that attraction to employ itself in the production of motion does not exist.

The transformation, in this case, is easily followed by the mind's eye. First, the weight as a whole is set in motion by the attraction of gravity. This motion of the mass is arrested by collision with the earth, being broken up into molecular tremors, to which we give the name of heat.

And when we reverse the process, and employ those tremors of heat to raise a weight—which is done through the intermediation of an elastic fluid in the steam-engine—a certain definite portion of the molecular motion is consumed. In this sense, and in this sense only, can the heat be said to be converted into gravity; or, more correctly, into potential energy of gravity. Here the destruction of the heat has created no new attraction; but the old attraction has conferred upon it a power of exerting a certain definite pull, between the starting-point of the falling weight and the earth.

When, therefore, writers on the conservation of energy speak of tensions being 'consumed' and 'generated,' they do not mean thereby that old attractions have been annihilated, and new ones brought into existence, but that, in the one case, the power of the attraction to produce motion has been diminished by the shortening of the distance between the attracting bodies, while, in the other case, the power of producing motion has been augmented by the increase of the distance. These remarks apply to all bodies, whether they be sensible masses or molecules.

Of the inner quality that enables matter to attract matter we know nothing; and the law of conservation makes no statement regarding that quality. It takes the facts of attraction as they stand, and affirms only the constancy of working-power. That power may exist in the form of MOTION; or it may exist in the form of FORCE, with distance to act through. The former is dynamic energy, the latter is potential energy, the constancy of the sum of both being affirmed by the law of conservation. The convertibility of natural forces consists solely in transformations of dynamic into potential, and of potential into dynamic energy. In no other sense has the convertibility of force any scientific meaning.

Grave errors have been entertained as to what is really intended to be conserved by the doctrine of conservation. This exposition I hope will tend to remove them.



[Footnote: The Rede Lecture delivered in the Senate House before the University of Cambridge, May 16, 1865.]


1. Visible and Invisible Radiation.

BETWEEN the mind of man and the outer world are interposed the nerves of the human body, which translate, or enable the mind to translate, the impressions of that world into facts of consciousness and thought.

Different nerves are suited to the perception of different impressions. We do not see with the ear, nor hear with the eye, nor are we rendered sensible of sound by the nerves of the tongue. Out of the general assemblage of physical actions, each nerve, or group of nerves, selects and responds to those for the perception of which it is specially organised.

The optic nerve passes from the brain to the back of the eyeball and there spreads out, to form the retina, a web of nerve filaments, on which the images of external objects are projected by the optical portion of the eye. This nerve is limited to the apprehension of the phenomena of radiation, and, notwithstanding its marvellous sensibility to certain impressions of this class, it is singularly obtuse to other impressions.

Nor does the optic nerve embrace the entire range even of radiation. Some rays, when they reach it, are incompetent to evoke its power, while others never reach it at all, being absorbed by the humours of the eye. To all rays which, whether they reach the retina or not, fail to excite vision, we give the name of invisible or obscure rays. All non-luminous bodies emit such rays. There is no body in nature absolutely cold, and every body not absolutely cold emits rays of heat. But to render radiant heat fit to affect the optic nerve a certain temperature is necessary. A cool poker thrust into a fire remains dark for a time, but when its temperature has become equal to that of the surrounding coals, it glows like them. In like manner, if a current of electricity, of gradually increasing strength, be sent through a wire of the refractory metal platinum, the wire first becomes sensibly warm to the touch; for a time its heat augments, still however remaining obscure; at length we can no longer touch the metal with impunity; and at a certain definite temperature it emits a feeble red light. As the current augments in power the light augments in brilliancy, until finally the wire appears of a dazzling white. The light which it now emits is similar to that of the sun.

By means of a prism Sir Isaac Newton unravelled the texture of solar light, and by the same simple instrument we can investigate the luminous changes of our platinum wire. In passing through the prism all its rays (and they are infinite in variety) are bent or refracted from their straight course; and, as different rays are differently refracted by the prism, we are by it enabled to separate one class of rays from another. By such prismatic analysis Dr. Draper has shown, that when the platinum wire first begins to glow, the light emitted is sensibly red. As the glow augments the red becomes more brilliant, but at the same time orange rays are added to the emission. Augmenting the temperature still further, yellow rays appear beside the orange; after the yellow, green rays are emitted; and after the green come, in succession, blue, indigo, and violet rays. To display all these colours at the same time the platinum wire must be white-hot: the impression of whiteness being in fact produced by the simultaneous action of all these colours on the optic nerve.

In the experiment just described we began with a platinum wire at an ordinary temperature, and gradually raised it to a white heat. At the beginning, and even before the electric current had acted at all upon the wire, it emitted invisible rays. For some time after the action of the current had commenced, and even for a time after the wire had become intolerable to the touch, its radiation was still invisible. The question now arises, What becomes of these invisible rays when the visible ones make their appearance? It will be proved in the sequel that they maintain themselves in the radiation; that a ray once emitted continues to be emitted when the temperature is increased, and hence the emission from our platinum wire, even when it has attained its maximum brilliancy, consists of a mixture of visible and invisible rays. If, instead of the platinum wire, the earth itself were raised to incandescence, the obscure radiation which it now emits would continue to be emitted. To reach incandescence the planet would have to pass through all the stages of non-luminous radiation, and the final emission would embrace the rays of all these stages. There can hardly be a doubt that from the sun itself, rays proceed similar in kind to those which the dark earth pours nightly into space. In fact, the various kind of obscure rays emitted by all the planets of our system are included in the present radiation of the sun.

The great pioneer in this domain of science was Sir William Herschel. Causing a beam of solar light to pass through a prism, he resolved it into its coloured constituents; he formed what is technically called the solar spectrum. Exposing thermometers to the successive colours he determined their heating power, and found it to augment from the violet or most refracted end, to the red or least refracted end of the spectrum. But he did not stop here. Pushing his thermometers into the dark space beyond the red he found that, though the light had disappeared, the radiant heat falling on the instruments was more intense than that at any visible part of the spectrum. In fact, Sir William Herschel showed, and his results have been verified by various philosophers since his time, that, besides its luminous rays, the sun pours forth a multitude of other rays, more powerfully calorific than the luminous ones, but entirely unsuited to the purposes of vision.

At the less refrangible end of the solar spectrum, then, the range of the sun's radiation is not limited by that of the eye. The same statement applies to the more refrangible end. Ritter discovered the extension of the spectrum into the invisible region beyond the violet; and, in recent times, this ultra-violet emission has had peculiar interest conferred upon it by the admirable researches of Professor Stokes. The complete spectrum of the sun consists, therefore, of three distinct parts: first, of ultra-red rays of high heating power, but unsuited to the purposes of vision; secondly, of luminous rays which display the succession of colours, red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, violet; thirdly, of ultra-violet rays which, like the ultra-red ones, are incompetent to excite vision, but which, unlike the ultra-red rays, possess a very feeble heating power. In consequence, however, of their chemical energy these ultra-violet rays are of the utmost importance to the organic world.


2. Origin and Character of Radiation. The Aether.

When we see a platinum wire raised gradually to a white heat, and emitting in succession all the colours of the spectrum, we are simply conscious of a series of changes in the condition of our own eyes. We do not see the actions in which these successive colours originate, but the mind irresistibly infers that the appearance of the colours corresponds to certain contemporaneous changes in the wire. What is the nature of these changes? In virtue of what condition does the wire radiate at all? We must now look from the wire, as a whole, to its constituent atoms. Could we see those atoms, even before the electric current has begun to act upon them, we should find them in a state of vibration. In this vibration, indeed, consists such warmth as the wire then possesses. Locke enunciated this idea with great precision, and it has been placed beyond the pale of doubt by the excellent quantitative researches of Mr. Joule. 'Heat,' says Locke, 'is a very brisk agitation of the insensible parts of the object, which produce in us that sensation from which we denominate the object hot: so what in our sensations is heat in the object is nothing but motion.' When the electric current, still feeble, begins to pass through the wire, its first act is to intensify the vibrations already existing, by causing the atoms to swing through wider ranges. Technically speaking, the amplitudes of the oscillations are increased. The current does this, however, without altering the periods of the old vibrations, or the times in which they were executed. But besides intensifying the old vibrations the current generates new and more rapid ones, and when a certain definite rapidity has been attained, the wire begins to glow. The colour first exhibited is red, which corresponds to the lowest rate of vibration of which the eye is able to take cognisance. By augmenting the strength of the electric current more rapid vibrations are introduced, and orange rays appear. A quicker rate of vibration produces yellow, a still quicker green; and by further augmenting the rapidity, we pass through blue, indigo, and violet, to the extreme ultra-violet rays.

Such are the changes recognised by the mind in the wire itself, as concurrent with the visual changes taking place in the eye. But what connects the wire with this organ By what means does it send such intelligence of its varying condition to the optic nerve? Heat being as defined by Locke, 'a very brisk agitation of the insensible parts of an object,' it is readily conceivable that on touching a heated body the agitation may communicate itself to the adjacent nerves, and announce itself to them as light or heat. But the optic nerve does not touch the hot platinum, and hence the pertinence of the question, By what agency are the vibrations of the wire transmitted to the eye?

The answer to this question involves one of the most important physical conceptions that the mind of man has yet achieved: the conception of a medium filling space and fitted mechanically for the transmission of the vibrations of light and heat, as air is fitted for the transmission of sound. This medium is called the luminiferous aether. Every vibration of every atom of our platinum wire raises in this aether a wave, which speeds through it at the rate of 186,000 miles a second.

The aether suffers no rupture of continuity at the surface of the eye, the inter-molecular spaces of the various humours are filled with it; hence the waves generated by the glowing platinum can cross these humours and impinge on the optic nerve at the back of the eye. [Footnote: The action here described is analogous to the passage of sound-waves through thick felt whose interstices are occupied by air.] Thus the sensation of light reduces itself to the acceptance of motion. Up to this point we deal with pure mechanics; but the subsequent translation of the shock of the aethereal waves into consciousness eludes mechanical science. As an oar dipping into the Cam generates systems of waves, which, speeding from the centre of disturbance, finally stir the sedges on the river's bank, so do the vibrating atoms generate in the surrounding aether undulations, which finally stir the filaments of the retina. The motion thus imparted is transmitted with measurable, and not very great velocity to the brain, where, by a process which the science of mechanics does not even tend to unravel, the tremor of the nervous matter is converted into the conscious impression of light.

Darkness might then be defined as aether at rest; light as aether in motion. But in reality the aether is never at rest, for in the absence of light-waves we have heat-waves always speeding through it. In the spaces of the universe both classes of undulations incessantly commingle. Here the waves issuing from uncounted centres cross, coincide, oppose, and pass through each other, without confusion or ultimate extinction. Every star is seen across the entanglement of wave-motions produced by all other stars. It is the ceaseless thrill caused by those distant orbs collectively in the aether, that constitutes what we call the 'temperature of space.' As the air of a room accommodates itself to the requirements of an orchestra, transmitting each vibration of every pipe and string, so does the inter-stellar aether accommodate itself to the requirements of light and heat. Its waves mingle in space without disorder, each being endowed with an individuality as indestructible as if it alone had disturbed the universal repose.

All vagueness with regard to the use of the terms 'radiation' and 'absorption' will now disappear. Radiation is the communication of vibratory motion to the aether; and when a body is said to be chilled by radiation, as for example the grass of a meadow on a starlight night, the meaning is, that the molecules of the grass have lost a portion of their motion, by imparting it to the medium in which they vibrate. On the other hand, the waves of aether may so strike against the molecules of a body exposed to their action as to yield up their motion to the latter; and in this transfer of the motion from the aether to the molecules consists the absorption of radiant heat. All the phenomena of heat are in this way reducible to interchanges of motion; and it is purely as the recipients or the donors of this motion, that we ourselves become conscious of the action of heat and cold.


3. The Atomic Theory in reference to the Aether.

The word 'atoms' has been more than once employed in this discourse. Chemists have taught us that all matter is reducible to certain elementary forms to which they give this name. These atoms are endowed with powers of mutual attraction, and under suitable circumstances they coalesce to form compounds. Thus oxygen and hydrogen are elements when separate, or merely mixed, but they may be made to combine so as to form molecules, each consisting of two atoms of hydrogen and one of oxygen. In this condition they constitute water. So also chlorine and sodium are elements, the former a pungent gas, the latter a soft metal; and they unite together to form chloride of sodium or common salt. In the same way the element nitrogen combines with hydrogen, in the proportion of one atom of the former to three of the latter, to form ammonia. Picturing in imagination the atoms of elementary bodies as little spheres, the molecules of compound bodies must be pictured as groups of such spheres. This is the atomic theory as Dalton conceived it. Now if this theory have any foundation in fact, and if the theory of an aether pervading space, and constituting the vehicle of atomic motion, be founded in fact, it is surely of interest to examine whether the vibrations of elementary bodies are modified by the act of combination—whether as regards radiation and absorption, or, in other words, whether as regards the communication of motion to the aether, and the acceptance of motion from it, the deportment of the uncombined atoms will be different from that of the combined.


4. Absorption of Radiant Heat by Gases.

We have now to submit these considerations to the only test by which they can be tried, namely, that of experiment. An experiment is well defined as a question put to Nature; but, to avoid the risk of asking amiss, we ought to purify the question from all adjuncts which do not necessarily belong to it. Matter has been shown to be composed of elementary constituents, by the compounding of which all its varieties are produced. But, besides the chemical unions which they form, both elementary and compound bodies can unite in another and less intimate way. Gases and vapours aggregate to liquids and solids, without any change of their chemical nature. We do not yet know how the transmission of radiant heat may be affected by the entanglement due to cohesion; and, as our object now is to examine the influence of chemical union alone, we shall render our experiments more pure by liberating the atoms and molecules entirely from the bonds of cohesion, and employing them in the gaseous or vaporous form.

Let us endeavour to obtain a perfectly clear mental image of the problem now before us. Limiting in the first place our enquiries to the phenomena of absorption, we have to picture a succession of waves issuing from a radiant source and passing through a gas; some of them striking against the gaseous molecules and yielding up their motion to the latter; others gliding round the molecules, or passing through the intermolecular spaces without apparent hindrance. The problem before us is to determine whether such free molecules have any power whatever to stop the waves of heat; and if so, whether different molecules possess this power in different degrees.

In examining the problem let us fall back upon an actual piece of work, choosing as the source of our heat-waves a plate of copper, against the back of which a steady sheet of flame is permitted to play. On emerging from the copper, the waves, in the first instance, pass through a space devoid of air, and then enter a hollow glass cylinder, three feet long and three inches wide. The two ends of this cylinder are stopped by two plates of rock-salt, a solid substance which offers a scarcely sensible obstacle to the passage of the calorific waves. After passing through the tube, the radiant heat falls upon the anterior face of a thermo-electric pile, [Footnote: In the Appendix to the first chapter of 'Heat as a Mode of 'Motion,' the construction of the thermo-electric pile is fully explained.] which instantly converts the heat into an electric current. This current conducted round a magnetic needle deflects it, and the magnitude of the deflection is a measure of the heat falling upon the pile. This famous instrument, and not an ordinary thermometer, is what we shall use in these enquiries, but we shall use it in a somewhat novel way. As long as the two opposite faces of the thermo-electric pile are kept at the same temperature, no matter how high that may be, there is no current generated. The current is a consequence of a difference of temperature between the two opposite faces of the pile. Hence, if after the anterior face has received the heat from our radiating source, a second source, which we may call the compensating source, be permitted to radiate against the posterior face, this latter radiation will tend to neutralise the former. When the neutralisation is perfect, the magnetic needle connected with the pile is no longer deflected, but points to the zero of the graduated circle over which it hangs.

And now let us suppose the glass tube, through which the waves from the heated plate of copper are passing, to be exhausted by an air-pump, the two sources of heat acting at the same time on the two opposite faces of the pile. When by means of an adjusting screen, perfectly equal quantities of heat are imparted to the two faces, the needle points to zero. Let any gas be now permitted to enter the exhausted tube; if its molecules possess any power of intercepting the calorific waves, the equilibrium previously existing will be destroyed, the compensating source will triumph, and a deflection of the magnetic needle will be the immediate consequence. From the deflections thus produced by different gases, we can readily deduce the relative amounts of wave-motion which their molecules intercept.

In this way the substances mentioned in the following table were examined, a small portion only of each being admitted into the glass tube. The quantity admitted in each case was just sufficient to depress a column of mercury associated with the tube one inch: in other words, the gases were examined at a pressure of one-thirtieth of an atmosphere. The numbers in the table express the relative amounts of wave-motion absorbed by the respective gases, the quantity intercepted by air being taken as unity.

Radiation through Gases.

Name of gas Relative absorption

Air 1

Oxygen 1

Nitrogen 1

Hydrogen 1

Carbonic oxide 750

Carbonic acid 972

Hydrochloric acid. 1,005

Nitric oxide 1,590

Nitrous oxide 1,860

Sulphide of hydrogen 2,100

Ammonia 5,460

Olefiant gas 6,030

Sulphurous acid 6,480

Every gas in this table is perfectly transparent to light, that is to say, all waves within the limits of the visible spectrum pass through it without obstruction; but for the waves of slower period, emanating from our heated plate of copper, enormous differences of absorptive power are manifested. These differences illustrate in the most unexpected manner the influence of chemical combination. Thus the elementary gases, oxygen, hydrogen, and nitrogen, and the mixture atmospheric air, prove to be practical vacua to the rays of heat; for every ray, or, more strictly speaking, for every unit of wave-motion, which any one of them intercepts, perfectly transparent ammonia intercepts 5,460 units, olefiant gas 6,030 units, while sulphurous acid gas absorbs 6,480 units. What, becomes of the wave-motion thus intercepted? It is applied to the heating of the absorbing gas. Through air, oxygen, hydrogen, and nitrogen, the waves of aether pass without absorption, and these gases are not sensibly changed in temperature by the most powerful calorific rays. The position of nitrous oxide in the foregoing table is worthy of particular notice. In this gas we have the same atoms in a state of chemical union, that exist uncombined in the atmosphere; but the absorption of the compound is 1,800 times that of air.


5. Formation of Invisible Foci.

This extraordinary deportment of the elementary gases naturally directed attention to elementary bodies 'in other states of aggregation. Some of Melloni's results now attained a new significance. This celebrated experimenter had found crystals of sulphur to be highly pervious to radiant heat; he had also proved that lamp-black, and black glass, (which owes its blackness to the element carbon) were to a considerable extent transparent to calorific rays of low refrangibility. These facts, harmonising so strikingly with the deportment of the simple gases, suggested further enquiry. Sulphur dissolved in bisulphide of carbon was found almost perfectly diathermic. The dense and deeply-coloured element bromine was examined, and found competent to cut off the light of our most brilliant flames, while it transmitted the invisible calorific rays with extreme freedom. Iodine, the companion element of bromine, was next thought of, but it was found impracticable to examine the substance in its usual solid condition. It however dissolves freely in bisulphide of carbon. There is no chemical union between the liquid and the iodine; it is simply a case of solution, in which the uncombined atoms of the element can act upon the radiant heat. When permitted to do so, it was found that a layer of dissolved iodine, sufficiently opaque to cut off the light of the midday sun, was almost absolutely transparent to the invisible calorific rays. [Footnote: Professor Dewar has recently succeeded in producing a medium highly opaque to light, and highly transparent to obscure heat, by fusing together sulphur and iodine.]

By prismatic analysis Sir William Herschel separate the luminous from the non-luminous rays of the sun, and he also sought to render the obscure rays visible by concentration. Intercepting the luminous portion of his spectrum he brought, by a converging lens, the ultra-red rays to a focus, but by this condensation he obtained no light. The solution of iodine offers a means of filtering the solar beam, or failing it, the beam of the electric lamp, which renders attainable far more powerful foci of invisible rays than could possibly be obtained by the method of Sir William Herschel. For to form his spectrum he was obliged to operate upon solar light which had passed through a narrow slit or through a small aperture, the amount of the obscure heat being limited by this circumstance. But with our opaque solution we may employ the entire surface of the largest lens, and having thus converged the rays, luminous and non-luminous, we can intercept the former by the iodine, and do what we please with the latter. Experiments of this character, not only with the iodine solution, but also with black glass and layers of lampblack, were publicly performed at the Royal Institution in the early part of 1862, and the effects at the foci of invisible rays, then obtained, were such as had never been witnessed previously.

In the experiments here referred to, glass lenses were employed to concentrate the rays. But glass, though highly transparent to the luminous, is in a high degree opaque to the invisible, heat-rays of the electric lamp, and hence a large portion of those rays was intercepted by the glass. The obvious remedy here is to employ rock-salt lenses instead of glass ones, or to abandon the use of lenses wholly, and to concentrate the rays by a metallic mirror. Both of these improvements have been introduced, and, as anticipated, the invisible foci have been thereby rendered more intense. The mode of operating remains however the same, in principle, as that made known in 1862. It was then found that an instant's exposure of the face of the thermoelectric pile to the focus of invisible rays, dashed the needles of a coarse galvanometer violently aside. It is now found that on substituting for the face of the thermo-electric pile a combustible body, the invisible rays are competent to set that body on fire.


6. Visible and Invisible Rays of the Electric Light.

We have next to examine what proportion the non-luminous rays of the electric light bear to the luminous ones. This the opaque solution of iodine enables us to do with an extremely close approximation to the truth.

The pure bisulphide of carbon, which is the solvent of the iodine, is perfectly transparent to the luminous, and almost perfectly transparent to the dark, rays of the electric lamp. Supposing the total radiation of the lamp to pass through the transparent bisulphide, while through the solution of iodine only the dark rays are transmitted. If we determine, by means of a thermoelectric pile, the total radiation, and deduct from it the purely obscure, we obtain the value of the purely luminous emission. Experiments, performed in this way, prove that if all the visible rays of the electric light were converged to a focus of dazzling brilliancy, its heat would only be one-eighth of that produced at the unseen focus of the invisible rays.

Exposing his thermometers to the successive colours of the solar spectrum, Sir William Herschel determined the heating power of each, and also that of the region beyond the extreme red. Then drawing a straight line to represent the length of the spectrum, he erected, at various points, perpendiculars to represent the calorific intensity existing at those points. Uniting the ends of all his perpendiculars, he obtained a curve which showed at a glance the manner in which the heat was distributed in the solar spectrum. Professor Mueller of Freiburg, with improved instruments, afterwards made similar experiments, and constructed a more accurate diagram of the same kind. We have now to examine the distribution of heat in the spectrum of the electric light; and for this purpose we shall employ a particular form of the thermo-electric pile, devised by Melloni. Its face is a rectangle, which by means of movable side-pieces can be rendered as narrow as desired. We can, for example, have the face of the pile the tenth, the hundredth, or even the thousandth of an inch in breadth. By means of an endless screw, this linear thermo-electric pile may be moved through the entire spectrum, from the violet to the red, the amount of heat falling upon the pile at every point of its march, being declared by a magnetic needle associated with the pile.

When this instrument is brought up to the violet end of the spectrum of the electric light, the heat is found to be insensible. As the pile is gradually moved from the violet end towards the red, heat soon manifests itself, augmenting as we approach the red. Of all the colours of the visible spectrum the red possesses the highest heating power. On pushing the pile into the dark region beyond the red, the heat, instead of vanishing, rises suddenly and enormously in intensity, until at some distance beyond the red it attains a maximum. Moving the pile still forward, the thermal power falls, somewhat more rapidly than it rose. It then gradually shades away, but, for a distance beyond the red greater than the length of the whole visible spectrum, signs of heat may be detected.

Drawing a datum line, and erecting along it perpendiculars, proportional in length to the thermal intensity at the respective points, we obtain the extraordinary curve, shown on the opposite page, which exhibits the distribution of heat in the spectrum of the electric light. In the region of dark rays, beyond the red, the curve shoots up to B, in a steep and massive peak—a kind of Matterhorn of heat, which dwarfs the portion of the diagram C D E, representing the luminous radiation. Indeed the idea forced upon the mind by this diagram is that the light rays are a mere insignificant appendage to the heat-rays represented by the area A B C D, thrown in as it were by nature for the purpose of vision.

Figure 1. Spectrum of Electric Light

The diagram drawn by Professor Mueller to represent the distribution of heat in the solar spectrum is not by any means so striking as that just described, and the reason, doubtless, is that prior to reaching the earth the solar rays have to traverse our atmosphere. By the aqueous vapour there diffused, the summit of the peak representing the sun's invisible radiation is cut off. A similar lowering of the mountain of invisible heat is observed when the rays from the electric light are permitted to pass through a film of water, which acts upon them as the atmospheric vapour acts upon the rays of the sun.


7. Combustion by Invisible Rays.

The sun's invisible rays far transcend the visible ones in heating power, so that if the alleged performances of Archimedes during the siege of Syracuse had any foundation in fact, the dark solar rays would have been the philosopher's chief agents of combustion. On a small scale we can readily produce, with the purely invisible rays of the electric light, all that Archimedes is said to have performed with the sun's total radiation. Placing behind the electric light a small concave mirror, the rays are converged, the cone of reflected rays and their point of convergence being rendered clearly visible by the dust always floating in the air. Placing between the luminous focus and the source of rays our solution of iodine, the light of the cone is entirely cut away; but the intolerable heat experienced when the band is placed, even for a moment, at the dark focus, shows that the calorific rays pass unimpeded through the opaque solution.

Almost anything that ordinary fire can effect may be accomplished at the focus of invisible rays; the air at the focus remaining at the same time perfectly cold, on account of its transparency to the heat-rays. An air thermometer, with a hollow rack-salt bulb, would be unaffected by the heat of the focus: there would be no expansion, and in the open air there is no convection. The aether at the focus, and not the air, is the substance in which the heat is embodied. A block of wood, placed at the focus, absorbs the heat, and dense volumes of smoke rise swiftly upwards, showing the manner in which the air itself would rise, if the invisible rays were competent to heat it. At the perfectly dark focus dry paper is instantly inflamed: chips of wood are speedily burnt up: lead, tin, and zinc are fused: and disks of charred paper are raised to vivid incandescence. It might be supposed that the obscure rays would show no preference for black over white; but they do show a preference, and to obtain rapid combustion, the body, if not already black, ought to be blackened. When metals are to be burned, it is necessary to blacken or otherwise tarnish them, so as to diminish their reflective power. Blackened zinc foil, when brought into the focus of invisible rays, is instantly caused to blaze, and burns with its peculiar purple light. Magnesium wire flattened, or tarnished magnesium ribbon, also bursts into flame. Pieces of charcoal suspended in a receiver full of oxygen are also set on fire when the invisible focus falls upon them; the dark rays after having passed through the receiver, still possessing sufficient power to ignite the charcoal, and thus initiate the attack of the oxygen. If, instead of being plunged in oxygen, the charcoal be suspended in vacuo, it immediately glows at the place where the focus falls.


8. Transmutation of Rays: Calorescence.

[Footnote: I borrow this term from Professor Challis, 'Philosophical Magazine,' vol. xii. P. 521]

Eminent experimenters were long occupied in demonstrating the substantial identity of light and radiant heat, and we have now the means of offering a new and striking proof of this identity. A concave mirror produces, beyond the object which it reflects, an inverted and magnified image of the object. Withdrawing, for example, our iodine solution, an intensely luminous inverted image of the carbon points of the electric light is formed at the focus of the mirror employed in the foregoing experiments. When the solution is interposed, and the light is cut away, what becomes of this image? It disappears from sight; but an invisible thermograph remains, and it is only the peculiar constitution of our eyes that disqualifies us from seeing the picture formed by the calorific rays. Falling on white paper, the image chars itself out: falling on black paper, two holes are pierced in it, corresponding to the images of the two coke points: but falling on a thin plate of carbon in vacuo, or upon a thin sheet of platinised platinum, either in vacuo or in air, radiant heat is converted into light, and the image stamps itself in vivid incandescence upon both the carbon and the metal. Results similar to those obtained with the electric light have also been obtained with the invisible rays of the lime-light and of the sun.

Before a Cambridge audience it is hardly necessary to refer to the excellent researches of Professor Stokes at the opposite end of the spectrum. The above results constitute a kind of complement to his discoveries. Professor Stokes named the phenomena which he has discovered and investigated Fluorescence; for the new phenomena here described I have proposed the term Calorescence. He, by the interposition of a proper medium, so lowered the refrangibility of the ultraviolet rays of the spectrum as to render them visible. Here, by the interposition of the platinum foil, the refrangibility of the ultra-red rays is so exalted as to render them visible. Looking through a prism at the incandescent image of the carbon points, the light of the image is decomposed, and a complete spectrum is obtained. The invisible rays of the electric light, remoulded by the atoms of the platinum, shine thus visibly forth; ultra-red rays being converted into red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, violet, and ultraviolet ones. Could we, moreover, raise the original source of rays to a sufficiently high temperature, we might not only obtain from the dark rays of such a source a single incandescent image, but from the dark rays of this image we might obtain a second one, from the dark rays of the second a third, and so on—a series of complete images and spectra being thus extracted from the invisible emission of the primitive source. [Footnote: On investigating the calorescence produced by rays transmitted through glasses of various colours, it was found that in the case of certain specimens of blue glass, the platinum foil glowed with a pink or purplish light. The effect was not subjective, and considerations of obvious interest are suggested by it. Different kinds of black glass differ notably as to their power of transmitting radiant heat. When thin, some descriptions tint the sun with a greenish hue: others make it appear a glowing red without any trace of green. The latter are far more diathermic than the former. In fact, carbon when perfectly dissolved and incorporated with a good white glass, is highly transparent to the calorific rays, and by employing it as an absorbent the phenomena of 'calorescence' may be obtained, though in a less striking form than with the iodine. The black glass chosen for thermometers, and intended to absorb completely the solar heat, may entirely fail in this object, if the glass in which the carbon is incorporated be colourless. To render the bulb of a thermometer a perfect absorbent, the glass ought in the first instance to be green. Soon after the discovery of fluorescence the late Dr. William Allen Miller pointed to the lime-light as an illustration of exalted refrangibility. Direct experiments have since entirely confirmed the view expressed at page 210 of his work on 'Chemistry,' published in 1855.]


9. Deadness of the Optic Nerve to the Calorific Rays.

The layer of iodine used in the foregoing experiments intercepted the rays of the noonday sun. No trace of light from the electric lamp was visible in the darkest room, even when a white screen was placed at the focus of the mirror employed to concentrate the light. It was thought, however, that if the retina itself were brought into the focus the sensation of light might be experienced. The danger of this experiment was twofold. If the dark rays were absorbed in a high degree by the humours of the eye the albumen of the humours might coagulate along the line of the rays. If, on the contrary, no such high absorption took place, the rays might reach the retina with a force sufficient to destroy it. To test the likelihood of these results, experiments were made on water and on a solution of alum, and they showed it to be very improbable that in the brief time requisite for an experiment any serious damage could be done. The eye was therefore caused to approach the dark focus, no defence, in the first instance, being provided; but the heat, acting upon the parts surrounding the pupil, could not be borne. An aperture was therefore pierced in a plate of metal, and the eye, placed behind the aperture, was caused to approach the point of convergence of invisible rays. The focus was attained, first by the pupil and afterwards by the retina. Removing the eye, but permitting the plate of metal to remain, a sheet of platinum foil was placed in the position occupied by the retina a moment before. The platinum became red-hot. No sensible damage was done to the eye by this experiment; no impression of light was produced; the optic nerve was not even conscious of heat.

But the humours of the eye are known to be highly impervious to the invisible calorific rays, and the question therefore arises, 'Did the radiation in the foregoing experiment reach the retina at all?' The answer is, that the rays were in part transmitted to the retina, and in part absorbed by the humours. Experiments on the eye of an ox showed that the proportion of obscure rays which reached the retina amounted to 18 per cent. of the total radiation; while the luminous emission from the electric light amounts to no more than 10 per cent. of the same total. Were the purely luminous rays of the electric lamp converged by our mirror to a focus, there can be no doubt as to the fate of a retina placed there. Its ruin would be inevitable; and yet this would be accomplished by an amount of wave-motion but little more than half of that which the retina, without exciting consciousness, bears at the focus of invisible rays.

This subject will repay a moment's further attention. At a common distance of a foot the visible radiation of the electric light employed in these experiments is 800 times the light of a candle. At the same distance, the portion of the radiation of the electric light which reaches the retina, but fails to excite vision, is about 1,500 times the luminous radiation of the candle.' [Footnote: It will be borne in mind that the heat which any ray, luminous or non-luminous, is competent to generate is the true measure of the energy of the ray.] But a candle on a clear night can readily be seen at a distance of a mile, its light at this distance being less than 1/20,000,000 of its light at the distance of a foot.

Hence, to make the candle-light a mile off equal in power to the non-luminous radiation received from the electric light at a foot distance, its intensity would have to be multiplied by 1,500 x 20,000,000, or by thirty thousand millions. Thus the thirty thousand millionth part of the invisible radiation from the electric light, received by the retina at the distance of a foot, would, if slightly changed in character, be amply sufficient to provoke vision. Nothing could more forcibly illustrate that special relationship supposed by Melloni and others to subsist between the optic nerve and the oscillating periods of luminous bodies. The optic nerve responds, as it were, to the waves with which it is in consonance, while it refuses to be excited by others of almost infinitely greater energy, whose periods of recurrence are not in unison with its own.


10. Persistence of Rays.

At an early part of this lecture it was affirmed, that when a platinum wire was, gradually raised to a state of high incandescence, new rays were constantly added, while the intensity of the old ones was increased. Thus, in Dr. Draper's experiments, the rise of temperature that generated the orange, yellow, green, and blue augmented the intensity of the red. What is true of the red is true of every other ray of the spectrum, visible and invisible. We cannot indeed see the augmentation of intensity in the region beyond the red, but we can measure it and express it numerically. With this view the following experiment was performed: A spiral of platinum wire was surrounded by a small glass globe to protect it from currents of air; through an orifice in the globe the rays could pass from the spiral and fall afterwards upon a thermo-electric pile. Placing in front of the orifice an opaque solution of iodine, the platinum was gradually raised from a low dark heat to the fullest incandescence, with the following results:

Appearance of spiral Energy of obscure radiation

Dark 1

Dark, but hotter 3

Dark, but still hotter 5

Dark, but still hotter 10

Feeble red 19

Dull red 25

Red 37

Full red. 62

Orange 89

Bright orange 144

Yellow 202

White 276

Intense white 440

Thus the augmentation of the electric current, which raises the wire from its primitive dark condition to an intense white heat, exalts at the same time the energy of the obscure radiation, until at the end it is fully 440 times what it was at the beginning.

What has been here proved true of the totality of the ultra-red rays is true for each of them singly. Placing our linear thermo-electric pile in any part of the ultra-red spectrum, it may be proved that a ray once emitted continues to be emitted with increased energy as the temperature is augmented. The platinum spiral, so often referred to, being raised to whiteness by an electric current, a brilliant spectrum was formed from its light. A linear thermo-electric pile was placed in the region of obscure rays beyond the red, and by diminishing the current the spiral was reduced to a low temperature. It was then caused to pass through various degrees of darkness and incandescence, with the following results:

Appearance of spiral Energy of obscure rays

Dark 1

Dark 6

Faint red 10

Dull red 13

Red 18

Full red. 27

Orange 60

Yellow 93

White 122

Here, as in the former case, the dark and bright radiations reached their maximum together; as the one augmented, the other augmented, until at last the energy of the obscure rays of the particular refrangibility here chosen, became 122 times what it was at first. To reach a white heat the wire has to pass through all the stages of invisible radiation, but in its most brilliant condition it embraces, in an intensified form, the rays of all those stages.

And thus it is with all other kinds of matter, as far as they have hitherto been examined. Coke, whether brought to a white heat by the electric current, or by the oxyhydrogen jet, pours out invisible rays with augmented energy, as its light is increased. The same is true of lime, bricks, and 'other substances. It is true of all metals which are capable of being heated to incandescence. It also holds good for phosphorus burning in oxygen. Every gush of dazzling light has associated with it a gush of invisible radiant heat, which far transcends the light in energy. This condition of things applies to all bodies capable of being raised to a white heat, either in the solid or the molten condition. It would doubtless also apply to the luminous fogs formed by the condensation of incandescent vapours. In such cases when the curve representing the radiant energy of the body is constructed, the obscure radiation towers upwards like a mountain, the luminous radiation resembling a mere 'spur' at its base. From the very brightness of the light of some of the fixed stars we may infer the intensity of that dark radiation, which is the precursor and inseparable associate of their luminous rays.

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