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SCIENTIFIC discoveries are not distributed uniformly in time. They appear rather in periodic groups. Thus, in the two first years of this century, among other gifts presented by men of science to the world, we have the Voltaic pile; the principle of Interference, which is the basis of the undulatory theory of light j and the discovery by William Herschel of the dark rays of the sun.
Directly or indirectly, this latter discovery heralded a period of active research on the subject of radiation. Leslie's celebrated work. "On the Nature of Heat," was published in 1804, but he informs us, in the preface, that the leading facts which gave rise to the publication presented themselves in the spring of 1801. An interesting but not uncommon psychological experience is glanced at in this preface. The inconvenience of what we call ecstasy, or exaltation, is that it is usually attended by undesirable compensations. Its action resembles that of a tidal river, sometimes advancing and filling the shores of life, but afterwards retreating and leaving unlovely banks behind. Leslie, when he began his work, describes himself as "transported at the prospect of a new world emerging to view." But further on the note changes, and before the preface ends he warns the reader that he may expect variety of tone, and perhaps defect of unity in his disquisition. The execution of the work, he says, proceeded with extreme tardiness; and as the charm of novelty wore off, he began to look upon his production with a coolness not usual in authors.
The ebb of the tide, however, was but transient; and to Leslie's ardour, industry, and experimental skill, we are indebted for a large body of knowledge in regard to the phenomena of radiation. In the
* A "Friday Evening Discourse," recently delivered in the Boyal Institution.
prosecution of his researches he had to rely upon himself. He devised his own apparatus, and applied it in his own way. To produce radiating surfaces, he employed metallic cubes, which to the present hour are known as Leslie's cubes. The different faces of these cubes he coated with different substances, and filling the cubes with boiling water, he determined the emissive powers of the substances thus heated. These he found to differ greatly from each other. Thus, the radiation from a coating of lampblack being called 100, that from the uncoated metallic surface of his cube was only 12. He pointed out the reciprocity existing between radiation and absorption, proving that those substances which emit heat copiously absorb it greedily. His thermoscopic instrument was the well-known differential-thermometer invented by himself. In experiment Leslie was very strong, but in theory he was not so strong. His notions as to the nature of the agent whose phenomena he investigated with so much ability are confused and incorrect. Indeed, he could hardly have formed any clear notion of the physical meaning of radiation before the undulatory theory of light, which was then on its trial, had been established.
A figure still more remarkable than Leslie occupied the scientific stage at the same time—namely, the vigorous, penetrating, and practical Benjamin Thompson, better known as Count Rumford, the originator of the Royal Institution. Rumford traversed a great portion of the ground occupied by Leslie, and obtained many of his results. As regards priority of publication, he was obviously discontented with the course which things had taken, and he endeavoured to place both himself and Leslie in what he supposed to be their right relation to the subject of radiant heat. The two investigators were unknown to each other personally, and their differences hardly rose to scientific strife. There can hardly, I think, be a doubt that each of them worked independently of the other, and that where their labours overlap, the honour of discovery belongs equally to both.
The results of Leslie and Rumford were obtained in the laboratory; hut the walls of a laboratory do not constitute the boundary of its results. Nature's hand specimens are always fair samples, and if the experiments of the laboratory be only true, they will be ratified throughout the universe. The results of Leslie and Rumford were in due time carried from the cabinet of the experimenter to the open sky, by Dr. Wells, a practising London physician. And here let it be gratefully acknowledged that vast services to physics have been rendered by physicians. The penetration of Wells is signalized among other things by the fact recorded by the late Mr, Darwin, that forty-five years before the publication of the "Origin of Species," the London doctor had distinctly recognized the principle of Natural Selection, and that he was the first who recognized it. But Wells is principally known to us through his "Theory of Dew," which, prompted hy the experiments of Leslie and Rumford, and worked out by the most refined and conclusive observations on the part of Wells himself, first revealed the cause of this beautiful phenomenon. Wells knew that through the body of our atmosphere invisible aqueous vapour is everywhere diffused. He proved that grasses and other bodies on which dew was deposited were powerful emitters of radiant heat; that when nothing existed in the air to stop their radiation, they became self-chilled; and that while thus chilled they condensed into dew the aqueous vapour of the air around them. I do not suppose that any theory of importance ever escaped the ordeal of assault on its first enunciation. The theory of Wells was thus assailed; but it has proved immovable, and will doubtless continue so to the end of time.
The interaction of scientific workers causes the growth of science to resemble that of an organism. From Faraday's tiny magnetoelectric spark, shown in this theatre half a century ago, has sprung the enormous practical development of electricity at the present time. Thomas Seebeck in 1822 discovered thermo-electricity, and eight years subsequently bars of bismuth and antimony were first soldered together by Nobili so as to form a thermo-electric pile. In the selfsame year Melloni perfected the instrument and proved its applicability to the investigation of radiant heat. The instrumental appliances of science have been well described as extensions of the senses of man. Thus the invention of the thermopile vastly augmented our powers over the phenomena of radiation. Melloni added immensely to our knowledge of the transmission of radiant heat through liquids and solids. His results appeared at first so novel and unexpected that they excited scepticism. He waited long in vain for a favourable Report from the Academicians of Paris; and finally, in despair of obtaining it, he published his results in the "Annales de Chimie." Here they came to the knowledge of Faraday, who, struck by their originality, brought them iiuder the notice of the,Royal Society, and obtained for Melloni the Rumford medal. The medal was accompanied by a sum of money from the Rumford fund; and this, at the time, was of the utmost importance to the young political exile, reduced as he was to penury in Paris. From that time until his death, Melloni was ranked as the foremost investigator in the domain of radiant heat.
As regards the philosophy of the thermopile, and its relation to the great doctrine of the conservation of energy, now everywhere accepted, a step of singular significance was takeu by Peltier in 1834. Up to that time it had been taken for granted that the action of an electric current upon a conductor through which it passed was always to generate heat. Peltier, however, proved that, under certain circumstances, the electric current generated cold. He soldered together n bar of antimony and a bar of bismuth, end to end, thus forming of the two metals one continuous bar. Sending a current through this bar, he found that when it passed from antimony to bismuth across the junction, heat was always there developed, whereas when the direction of the current was from bismuth to antimony, there was a development of cold. By placing a drop of chilled water upon the junction of the two metals, Lenz subsequently congealed the water to ice by the passage of the current.
The source of power in the thermopile is here revealed, and a relation of the utmost importance is established between heat and electricity. Heat is shown to be the nutriment of the electric current. When one face of a thermopile is warmed, the current produced, which is always from bismuth to antimony, is simply heat consumed and transmuted into electricity.
Long before the death of Melloni, what the Germans call "Die Identitats-Frage," that is to say, the question of the identity of light and radiant heat, agitated men's minds and spurred their inquiries. In the world of science men differ from each other in wisdom and penetration, and a new theoretic truth has always at first the minority on its side. But time, holding incessantly up to the gaze of inquirers the unalterable pattern of Nature, gradually stamps that pattern on the human mind. For twenty years Henry Brougham was able to quench the light of Thomas Young, and to retard, in like proportion, the diffusion of correct notions regarding the nature and propagation of radiant heat. But such opposing forces are, in the end, driven in, and the undulatory theory of light being once established, soon made room for the undulatory theory of radiant heat. It was shown by degrees that every purely physical effect manifested by light was equaUy manifested by the invisible form of radiation. Reflection, refraction, double refraction, polarization, magnetization, were all proved true of radiant heat, just as certainly as they had been proved true of light. It was at length clearly realized that radiant heat, like light, was propagated in waves through that wondrous luminiferous medium which fills all space, the only real difference between them being a difference in the length and frequency of the ethereal waves. Light, as a sensation, was seen to be produced by a particular kind of radiant heat, which possessed the power of exciting the retina.
And now we approach a deeper and more subtle portion of our subject. What, we have to ask, is the origin of the ether waves, some of which constitute light, and all of which constitute radiant heat? The answer to this question is that the waves have their origin in the vibrations of the ultimate particles of bodies. But we must be more strict in our definition of ultimate particles. The ultimate particle of water, for example, is a molecule. If you go beyond this molecule and decompose it, the result is no longer water, but the discrete atoms of oxygen and hydrogen. The molecule of water consists of three such atoms held tightly together, but still capable of individual vibration. The question now arises: Is it the molecules vibrating as wholes, or the shivering atoms of the molecules, that are to be considered as the real sources of the ether waves? As long as we were confined to the experiments of Leslie, Kumford, and Melloni, it was difficult to answer this question. But when it was discovered that gases and vapours possessed—in some cases to an astonishing extent—the power both of absorbing and radiating heat, a new light was thrown upon the question.
You know that the theory of gases and vapours, now generally accepted, is that they consist of molecular or atomic projectiles darting to and fro, clashing and recoiling, endowed, in short, with a motion not of vibration but of translation. When two molecules clash, or when a single molecule strikes against its boundary, the first effect is to deform the molecule, by moving its atoms out of their places. But gifted as they are with enormous resiliency, the atoms immediately recover their positions, and continue to quiver in consequence of the shock. Held tightly by the force of affinity, they resemble a string stretched to almost infinite tension, and therefore capable of generating tremors of almost infinite rapidity. "What we call the heat of a gas is made up of these two motions—the flight of the molecules through space, and the quivering of their constituent atoms. Thus does the eye of science pierce to what Newton called "the more secret and noble works of Nature," and make us at home amid the mysteries of a world lying in all probability vastly further beyond the range of the microscope than the power of the microscope, at its maximum, lies beyond that of the unaided eye.
The great principle of radiation, which affirms that all bodies absorb the same rays that they emit, is now a familiar one. When, for example, a beam of white light is sent through a yellow sodium flame, produced by a copious supply of sodium vapour, the yellow constituent of the white beam is stopped by the yellow flame, and if the beam be subsequently analyzed by a prism, a black band is found in the place of the intercepted yellow band of the spectrum. We have been led to our present theoretic knowledge of light by a close study of the phenomena of sound, which in the present instance will help us to a conception of the action of the sodium flame. The atoms of sodium vapour synchronize in their vibrations with the particular waves of ether which produce the sensation of yellow light. The vapour, therefore, can take up or absorb the motion of those