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majority of cases, but strong sulphuric acid slowly acts on it, the action becoming rapid if heat be applied. Strong nitric acid acts on it with some energy, causing its entire destruction, and in a similar manner it is destroyed by the prolonged action of chlorine, bromine, or iodine; although these reagents, when their action is kept under control, produce a vulcanizing or strengthening effect.—Abridged from Journal of the Society of Arts.


IN bringing before you some discoveries made by Mr. Sumner Tainter and myself, which, having resulted in the construction of apparatus for the production and reproduction of sound by means of light, it is necessary to explain the state of knowledge which formed the starting-point of our experiments. I shall first describe the remarkable substance selenium, and the manipulations devised by various experimenters; but the final result of our researches has extended the class of substances sensitive to light-vibrations, until we can propound the fact of such sensitiveness being a general property of all matter. We have found this property in gold, silver, platinum, iron, steel, brass, copper, zinc, lead, antimony, German silver, Jenkin's metal, Babbitt's metal, ivory, celluloid; gutta-percha, hard rubber, soft vulcanized rubber, paper, parchment, wood, mica, and silvered glass; and the only substances from which we have not obtained results are carbon and thin microscopic glass. We find that when a vibratory beam of light falls upon these substances they emit sounds, the pitch of which depends upon the frequency of the vibratory change in the light. We find, further, that, when we control the form or character of the light-vibration on selenium, and probably on the other substances, we control the quality of the sound and obtain all varieties of articulate speech. We can thus, without a conducting wire, as in electric telephony, speak from station to station, wherever we can project a beam of light. We have not had opportunity of testing the limit to which this photophonic influence can be extended, but we have spoken to and from points two hundred and thirteen metres apart; and there seems no reason to doubt that the results will be obtained at whatever distance a beam of light can be flashed from one observatory to another. The necessary privacy of our experiments hitherto has alone prevented any attempts at determining the extreme distance at which this new method of vocal communication will be available. I shall now speak of selenium.

  1. Lecture delivered before the American Association for the Advancement of Science, in the Institute of Technology, Boston, August 27, 1880.