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[GASES
CONDUCTION, ELECTRIC

higher resistance than the colourless. For the same current, therefore, the potential gradient is higher in the coloured solution and lower in the colourless one. Thus a coloured ion which gets in front of the advancing boundary finds itself acted on by a smaller force and falls back into line, while a straggling colourless ion is pushed forward again. Hence a sharp boundary is preserved. B. D. Steele has shown that with these sharp boundaries the use of coloured ions is unnecessary, the junction line being visible owing to the difference in the optical refractive indices of two colourless solutions. Once the boundary is formed, too, no gelatine is necessary, and the motion can be watched through liquid aqueous solutions (see R. B. Denison and B. D. Steele, Phil. Trans., 1906).

All the direct measurements which have been made on simple binary electrolytes agree with Kohlrausch’s results within the limits of experimental error. His theory, therefore, probably holds good in such cases, whatever be the solvent, if the proper values are given to the ionic velocities, i.e. the values expressing the velocities with which the ions actually move in the solution of the strength taken, and under the conditions of the experiment. If we know the specific velocity of any one ion, we can deduce, from the conductivity of very dilute solutions, the velocity of any other ion with which it may be associated, a proceeding which does not involve the difficult task of determining the migration constant of the compound. Thus, taking the specific ionic velocity of hydrogen as 0.00032 cm. per second, we can find, by determining the conductivity of dilute solutions of any acid, the specific velocity of the acid radicle involved. Or again, since we know the specific velocity of silver, we can find the velocities of a series of acid radicles at great dilution by measuring the conductivity of their silver salts.

By such methods W. Ostwald, G. Bredig and other observers have found the specific velocities of many ions both of inorganic and organic compounds, and examined the relation between constitution and ionic velocity. The velocity of elementary ions is found to be a periodic function of the atomic weight, similar elements lying on corresponding portions of a curve drawn to express the relation between these two properties. Such a curve much resembles that giving the relation between atomic weight and viscosity in solution. For complex ions the velocity is largely an additive property; to a continuous additive change in the composition of the ion corresponds a continuous but decreasing change in the velocity. The following table gives Ostwald’s results for the formic acid series:—

Table XII.
  Velocity. Difference for CH2.
Formic acid HCO2 51.2 ..
Acetic acid H3C2O2 38.3 -12.9
Propionic acid H5C3O2 34.3 - 4.0
Butyric acid H7C4O2 30.8 - 3.5
Valeric acid H9C5O2 28.8 - 2.0
Caprionic acid H11C6O2 27.4 - 1.4

Nature of Electrolytes.—We have as yet said nothing about the fundamental cause of electrolytic activity, nor considered why, for example, a solution of potassium chloride is a good conductor, while a solution of sugar allows practically no current to pass.

All the preceding account of the subject is, then, independent of any view we may take of the nature of electrolytes, and stands on the basis of direct experiment. Nevertheless, the facts considered point to a very definite conclusion. The specific velocity of an ion is independent of the nature of the opposite ion present, and this suggests that the ions themselves, while travelling through the liquid, are dissociated from each other. Further evidence, pointing in the same direction, is furnished by the fact that since the conductivity is proportional to the concentration at great dilution, the equivalent-conductivity, and therefore the ionic velocity, is independent of it. The importance of this relation will be seen by considering the alternative to the dissociation hypothesis. If the ions are not permanently free from each other their mobility as parts of the dissolved molecules must be secured by continual interchanges. The velocity with which they work their way through the liquid must then increase as such molecular rearrangements become more frequent, and will therefore depend on the number of solute molecules, i.e. on the concentration. On this supposition the observed constancy of velocity would be impossible. We shall therefore adopt as a wording hypothesis the theory, confirmed by other phenomena (see Electrolysis), that an electrolyte consists of dissociated ions.

It will be noticed that neither the evidence in favour of the dissociation theory which is here considered, nor that described in the article Electrolysis, requires more than the effective dissociation of the ions from each other. They may well be connected in some way with solvent molecules, and there are several indications that an ion consists of an electrified part of the molecule of the dissolved salt with an attendant atmosphere of solvent round it. The conductivity of a salt solution depends on two factors—(1) the fraction of the salt ionized; (2) the velocity with which the ions, when free from each other, move under the electric forces.[1] When a solution is heated, both these factors may change. The coefficient of ionization usually, though not always, decreases; the specific ionic velocities increase. Now the rate of increase with temperature of these ionic velocities is very nearly identical with the rate of decrease of the viscosity of the liquid. If the curves obtained by observations at ordinary temperatures be carried on they indicate a zero of fluidity and a zero of ionic velocity about the same point, 38.5° C. below the freezing point of water (Kohlrausch, Sitz. preuss. Akad. Wiss., 1901, 42, p. 1026). Such relations suggest that the frictional resistance to the motion of an ion is due to the ordinary viscosity of the liquid, and that the ion is analogous to a body of some size urged through a viscous medium rather than to a particle of molecular dimensions finding its way through a crowd of molecules of similar magnitude. From this point of view W. K. Bousfield has calculated the sizes of ions on the assumption that Stokes’s theory of the motion of a small sphere through a viscous medium might be applied (Zeits. phys. Chem., 1905, 53, p. 257; Phil. Trans. A, 1906, 206, p. 101). The radius of the potassium or chlorine ion with its envelope of water appears to be about 1.2×10−8 centimetres.

For the bibliography of electrolytic conduction see Electrolysis. The books which deal more especially with the particular subject of the present article are Das Leitvermögen der Elektrolyte, by F. Kohlrausch and L. Holborn (Leipzig, 1898), and The Theory of Solution and Electrolysis, by W. C. D. Whetham (Cambridge, 1902).  (W. C. D. W.) 


III. Electric Conduction through Gases

A gas such as air when it is under normal conditions conducts electricity to a small but only to a very small extent, however small the electric force acting on the gas may be. The electrical conductivity of gases not exposed to special conditions is so small that it was only definitely established in the early years of the 20th century, although it had engaged the attention of physicists for more than a hundred years. It had been known for a long time that a body charged with electricity slowly lost its charge even when insulated with the greatest care, and though long ago some physicists believed that part of the leak of electricity took place through the air, the general view seems to have been that it was due to almost unavoidable defects in the insulation or to dust in the air, which after striking the charged body was repelled from it and went off with some of the charge. C. A. Coulomb, who made some very careful experiments which were published in 1785 (Mém. de l’Acad. des Sciences, 1785, p. 612), came to the conclusion that after allowing for the leakage along the threads which supported the charged body there was a balance over, which he attributed to leakage through the air. His view was that when the molecules of air come into contact with a charged body some of the electricity goes on to the molecules, which are then repelled from the body carrying their charge with them. We shall see later that this explanation is not tenable. C. Matteucci (Ann. chim. phys., 1850, 28, p. 390) in 1850 also came to the conclusion that the electricity from a charged body passes through the air; he was the first to prove

  1. It should be noticed that the velocities calculated in Kohlrausch’s theory and observed experimentally are the average velocities, and involve both the factors mentioned above; they include the time wasted by the ions in combination with each other, and, except at great dilution, are less than the velocity with which the ions move when free from each other.