disproved. A few experimenters have carried the verification much further. Stas, in his syntheses of silver iodide, weighed the silver and the iodine separately, and after converting them into the compound he weighed this also. In each of a number of experiments he found that the weight of the silver iodide did not differ by one twenty-thousandth of the whole from the sum of the weights of the silver and the iodine used. His analyses of another compound, silver iodate, confirm the law to one part in 78,000. In E. W. Morley’s experiments on the synthesis of water the hydrogen, the oxygen and the water that had been formed were separately determined; taking the mean of his results, the sum of the weights of the ingredients is not found to differ from the weight of the product by one part in 10,000. It is evident that if our experiments are solely directed to the verification of this law, they should, if possible, be carried out in a hermetically closed vessel, the vessel and its contents being weighed before and after the chemical change. The extremely careful experiments of this kind, by H. Landolt and others, made it at first appear that the change in weight, if there is any, consequent on a chemical change can rarely exceed one-millionth of the weight of the reacting substances, and that it must often be much less. The small discrepancies found are so easily accounted for by attributing them to experimental errors that, until recently, every chemist would have regarded the law as sufficiently verified. Landolt’s subsequent experiments showed, what was already noticed in the earlier ones, that these minute changes in weight are nearly always losses, the products weigh less than the components, while if they had been purely experimental errors, due to weighing, they might have been expected to be as frequently gains as losses. Landolt was disposed to attribute these losses in weight to the containing vessel, which was of glass or quartz, not being absolutely impervious, but in 1908 he showed that, by making allowance for the moisture adsorbed on the vessel, the errors were both positive and negative, and were less than one in ten million. He concluded that no change of weight can be detected. Modern researches (see Radioactivity) on the complex nature of the atom have a little shaken the belief in the absolute permanence of matter. But it seems pretty clear that if there is any change in weight consequent on chemical change, it is too minute to be of importance to the chemist, though the methods of modern physics may settle the question. (See Element.)
The law of constant proportions is easily verified to a moderate degree of accuracy by such experiments as the following. We can prepare, in the laboratory, a white powder that proves to be calcium carbonate, that is, it appears to be wholly composed of carbon dioxide and lime. We find in nature two other unlike substances, marble and Iceland spar, each of which is wholly composed of carbon dioxide and lime. Thus these three substances, unlike in appearance and origin, are composed of the same ingredients: if small variations in the combining ratio of the components were possible, we might expect to find them in such a case as this. But analysis has failed to find such differences; the ratio of the weights of lime and carbon dioxide is found to be the same in all three substances. Such analyses, which do not always admit of great accuracy, have been confirmed by a few carefully planned experiments in which two components were brought together under very varied conditions, and the resulting compound analysed. Stas carried out such experiments on the composition of silver chloride and of ammonium chloride, but he never found a variation of one part in 10,000 in the composition of the substances.
The two laws discussed above were more or less accepted before the promulgation of the atomic theory, but the law of multiple proportions is the legitimate offspring of this theory. Berzelius saw at once that it afforded an admirable test for the correctness of Dalton’s views, and he made numerous experiments expressly designed to test the law. One of these experiments may be described. Two chlorides of copper are known, one a highly coloured substance, the other quite white. Berzelius took 8 grams of copper, converted it into the coloured chloride, and sealed up the whole of this in solution, together with a weighed strip of copper. After some time the colour entirely disappeared; the strip of copper was then taken out and reweighed, and it was found to have lost 8.03 grams. Thus the chlorine, which in the coloured compound was in union with 8 grams of copper, appears, in the colourless chloride, to be combined with 16.03 grams, or almost exactly double the amount. It is easy to verify this result. In a series of repetitions of the experiment, by different observers, the following numbers were obtained for the ratio of the copper in the two chlorides: 1.98, 1.97, 2.03, 2.003, the mean value being 1.996. It will be noticed that the ratio found is sometimes above and sometimes below the number 2, which is required by the atomic theory, and therefore the deviations may not unreasonably be attributed to experimental errors. Such experiments—and numerous ones of about this degree of accuracy have been made on a variety of substances—give a high degree of probability to the law, but leave it an open question whether it has the exactitude of the law of the conservation of matter, or whether it is only approximately true. The question is, however, vital to the atomic theory. It is, therefore, worth while to quote a verification of great exactitude from the work of Stas and J. B. A. Dumas on the composition of the two oxides of carbon. From their work it follows that the ratio of the weights of oxygen combined with unit weight of carbon in the two oxides is 1.99995, or with somewhat different data, 1.9996.
The law of reciprocal proportion, of which some examples have been already given, is part of a larger law of equivalence that underlies most of our chemical methods and calculations. One section of the law expresses the fact that the weights of two substances, not necessarily elements, that are equivalent in one reaction, are often found to be equivalent in a number of other reactions. The neutralization of acids by bases affords many illustrations, known even before the atomic theory, of the truth of the statement. It is universally found that the weights of two bases which neutralize the same weight of one acid are equivalent in their power of neutralizing other acids. Thus 5 parts by weight of soda, 7 of potash and 3.5 of quicklime will each neutralize 4.56 parts of hydrochloric acid or 7.875 of nitric or 6.125 parts of sulphuric acid; these weights, in fact, are mutually equivalent to one another. The Daltonian would say that each of these weights represents a certain group of atoms, and that these groups can replace, or combine with, each other, to form new molecules. The change from a binary compound, that is, one containing two elements, to a ternary compound in which these two elements are associated with a third, sometimes affords a very good test for the theory. The atomic theory can picture the change from the binary to the ternary compound simply as the addition of one or more atoms of the third element to the previously existing molecule; in such a case the combining ratio of the first two elements should be absolutely the same in both compounds. Berzelius tested this prediction. He showed that lead sulphide, a black substance containing only lead and sulphur, could be converted by oxidation into lead sulphate, a white compound containing oxygen as well as lead and sulphur. The whole of the lead and sulphur of the sulphide was found to be present in the sulphate; in other words, the combining ratio of the lead and sulphur was not altered by the addition of the oxygen. This is found to be a general rule. It was verified very exactly by Stas’s experiments, in which he removed the oxygen from the ternary compound silver iodate and found that the whole of the silver and the iodine remained in combination with each other as silver iodide; his results prove, to one part in ten millions, that the combining ratio of the silver and the iodine is unaltered by the removal of the oxygen.
The above gives some idea of the evidence that has been accumulated in favour of the laws of chemical combination, laws which can be deduced from the atomic theory. Whenever any of these laws, or indeed any prediction from the theory, can be tested it has so far proved to be in harmony with experiment. The existence of the periodic law (see Element), and the
- Freund, The Study of Chemical Composition.