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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 19.djvu/256

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THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

state of things very favorable to the hope that Faraday's fundamental conceptions may in the immediate future receive general assent. His theory, indeed, is the only existing one which is at the same time in perfect harmony with the facts observed, and which at least does not lead into any contradiction against the general axioms of dynamics.

It is not at all necessary to accept any definite opinion about the ultimate nature of the agent which we call electricity.

Faraday himself avoided as much as he could giving any affirmative assertion regarding this problem, although he did not conceal his disinclination to believe in the existence of two opposite electric fluids.

For our own discussion of the electro-chemical phenomena, to which we shall turn now, I beg permission to use the language of the old dualistic theory, because we shall have to speak principally on relations of quantity.

I now turn to the second fundamental problem aimed at by Faraday, the connection between electric and chemical force. Already, before Faraday went to work, an elaborate electro-chemical theory had been established by the renowned Swedish chemist, Berzelius, which formed the connecting link of the great work of his life, the systematization of the chemical knowledge of his time. His starting-point was the series into which Volta had arranged the metals according to the electric tension which they exhibit after contact with each other. A fundamental point which Faraday's experiment contradicted was the supposition that the quantity of electricity collected in each atom was dependent on their mutual electro-chemical differences, which he considered as the cause of their apparently greater chemical affinity. But, although the fundamental conceptions of Berzelius's theory have been forsaken, chemists have not ceased to speak of positive and negative constituents of a compound body. Nobody can overlook that such a contrast of qualities, as was expressed in Berzelius's theory, really exists, well developed at the extremities, less evident in the middle terms of the series, playing an important part in all chemical actions, although often subordinated to other influences.

When Faraday began to study the phenomena of decomposition by the galvanic current, which of course were considered by Berzelius as one of the firmest supports of his theory, he put a very simple question; the first question, indeed, which every chemist speculating about electrolysis ought to have answered. He asked, What is the quantity of electrolytic decomposition if the same quantity of electricity is sent through several electrolytic cells? By this investigation he discovered that most important law, generally known under his name, but called by him the law of definite electrolytic action.

Faraday concluded from his experiments that a definite quantity of electricity can not pass a voltametric cell containing acidulated water between electrodes of platinum without setting free at the negative electrode a corresponding definite amount of hydrogen, and at the