the light. The fact discovered by E. Ladenburg (Verh. d. deutsch. physik. Ges. 9, p. 504) that the velocity with which the corpuscles are emitted depends on the wave length of the light suggests that the energy in each bundle depends upon the wave length and increases as the wave length diminishes.
These considerations illustrate the evidence afforded by photo-electric effects on the nature of light; these effects may also have a deep significance with regard to the structure of matter. The fact that the energy of the individual corpuscles is independent of the intensity of the light might be explained by the hypothesis that the energy of the corpuscles does not come from the light but from the energy stored up in the molecules of the metal exposed to the light. We may suppose that under the action of the light some of the molecules are thrown into an unstable state and explode, ejecting corpuscles; the light in this case acts only as a trigger to liberate the energy in the atom, and it is this energy and not that of the light which goes into the corpuscles. In this way the velocity of the corpuscles would be independent of the intensity of the light. But it may be asked, is this view consistent with the result obtained by Ladenburg that the velocity of the corpuscles depends upon the nature of the light? If light of a definite wave length expelled corpuscles with a definite and uniform velocity, it would be very improbable that the emission of the corpuscles is due to an explosion of the atoms. The experimental facts as far as they are known at present do not allow us to say that the connexion between the velocity of the corpuscles and the wave length of the light is of this definite character, and a connexion such as a gradual increase of average velocity as the wave length of the light diminishes, would be quite consistent with the view that the corpuscles are ejected by the explosion of the atom. For in a complex thing like an atom there may be more than one system which becomes unstable when exposed to light. Let us suppose that there are two such systems, A and B, of which B ejects the corpuscles with the greater velocity. If B is more sensitive to the short waves, and A to the long ones, then as the wave length of the light diminishes the proportion of the corpuscles which come from B will increase, and as these are the faster, the average velocity of the corpuscles emitted will also increase. And although the potential acquired by a perfectly insulated piece of metal when exposed to ultra-violet light would depend only on the velocity of the fastest corpuscles and not upon their number, in practice perfect insulation is unattainable, and the potential actually acquired is determined by the condition that the gain of negative electricity by the metal through lack of insulation, is equal to the loss by the emission of negatively electrified corpuscles. The potential acquired will fall below that corresponding to perfect insulation by an amount depending on the number of the faster corpuscles emitted, and the potential will rise if the proportion of the rapidly moving corpuscles is increased, even though there is no increase in their velocity. It is interesting to compare other cases in which corpuscles are emitted with the case of ultra-violet light. When a metal or gas is bombarded by cathode rays it emits corpuscles and the velocity of these is found to be independent of the velocity of the cathode rays which excite them; the velocity is greater than for corpuscles emitted under ultra-violet light. Again, when bodies are exposed to Röntgen rays they emit corpuscles moving with a much greater velocity than those excited by cathode rays, but again the velocity does not depend upon the intensity of the rays although it does to some extent on their hardness. In the case of cathode and Röntgen rays, the velocity with which the corpuscles are emitted seems, as far as we know at present, to vary slightly, but only slightly, with the nature of the substance on which the rays fall. May not this indicate that the first effect of the primary rays is to detach a neutral doublet, consisting of a positive and negative charge, this doublet being the same from whatever system it is detached? And that the doublet is unstable and explodes, expelling the negative charge with a high velocity, and the positive one, having a much larger charge, with a much smaller velocity, the momentum of the negative charge being equal to that of the positive.
Up to now we have been considering the effects produced when light is incident on metals. Lenard found (and the result has been confirmed by the experiments of J. J. Thomson and Lyman) that certain kinds of ultra-violet light ionize a gas when they pass through. The type of ultra-violet light which produces this effect is so easily absorbed that it is stopped by a layer a few millimetres thick of air at atmospheric pressure.
Ionization by Collision.—When the ionization of the gas is produced by external agents such as Röntgen rays or ultra-violet light, the electric field produces a current by setting the positive ions moving in one direction, and the negative ones in the opposite; it makes use of ions already made and does not itself give rise to ionization. In many cases, however, such as in electric sparks, there are no external agents to produce ionization and the electric field has to produce the ions as well as set them in motion. When the ionization is produced by external means the smallest electric field is able to produce a current through the gas; when, however, these external means are absent no current is produced unless the strength of the electric field exceeds a certain critical value, which depends not merely upon the nature of the gas but also upon the pressure and the dimensions of the vessel in which it is contained. The variation of the electric field required to produce discharge can be completely explained if we suppose that the ionization of the gas is produced by the impact with its molecules of corpuscles, and in certain cases of positive ions, which under the influence of the electric field have acquired considerable kinetic energy. We have direct evidence that rapidly moving corpuscles are able to ionize molecules against which they strike, for the cathode rays consist of such corpuscles, and these when they pass through a gas produce large amounts of ionization. Suppose then that we have in a gas exposed to an electric field a few corpuscles. These will be set in motion by the field and will acquire an amount of energy in proportion to the product of the electric force, their charge, and the distance travelled in the direction of the electric field between two collisions with the molecules of the gas. If this energy is sufficient to give them the ionizing property possessed by cathode rays, then when a corpuscle strikes against a molecule it will detach another corpuscle; this under the action of the electric field will acquire enough energy to produce corpuscles on its own account, and so as the corpuscles move through the gas their number will increase in geometrical progression. Thus, though there were but few corpuscles to begin with, there may be great ionization after these have been driven some distance through the gas by the electric field.
The number of ions produced by collisions can be calculated by the following method. Let the electric force be parallel to the axis of x, and let n be the number of corpuscles per unit volume at a place fixed by the co-ordinate x; then in unit time these corpuscles will make nu/λ collisions with the molecules, if u is the velocity of a corpuscle and λ the mean free path of a corpuscle. When the corpuscles are moving fast enough to produce ions by collision their velocities are very much greater than those they would possess at the same temperature if they were not acted on by electrical force, and so we may regard the velocities as being parallel to the axis of x and determined by the electric force and the mean free path of the corpuscles. We have to consider how many of the nu/λ collisions which take place per second will produce ions. We should expect that the ionization of a molecule would require a certain amount of energy, so that if the energy of the corpuscle fell below this amount no ionization would take place, while if the energy of the corpuscle were exceedingly large, every collision would result in ionization. We shall suppose that a certain fraction of the number of collisions result in ionization and that this fraction is a function of the energy possessed by the corpuscle when it collides against the molecules. This energy is proportional to Xeλ when X is the electric force, e the charge on the corpuscle, and λ the mean free path. If the fraction of collisions which produce ionization is ∫ (Xeλ), then the number of ions produced per cubic centimetre per second is ∫ (Xeλ)nu/λ. If the collisions follow each other with great rapidity so that a molecule has not had time to recover from one collision before it is struck again, the effect of collisions might be cumulative, so that a succession of collisions might give rise to ionization, though none of the collisions would produce an ion by itself. In this case ∫ would involve the frequency of the collisions as well as the energy of the corpuscle; in other words, it might depend on the currentthrough the gas as well as upon the intensity of the electric field.