Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 22.djvu/231

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SCIENCE IN RELATION TO THE ARTS.

The tensile strength of steel, as is well known, is the result of an admixture of carbon with the iron, varying between one tenth and two per cent, and the nature of this combination of carbon with iron is a matter of great interest both from a theoretical and practical point of view. It could not be a chemical compound which would necessitate a definite proportion, nor could a mere dissolution of the one in the other exercise such remarkable influence upon the strength and hardness of the resulting metal. A recent investigation by Mr. Abel has thrown considerable light upon this question. A definite carbide of iron is formed, it appears, soluble at high temperatures in iron, but separating upon cooling the steel gradually, and influencing only to a moderate degree the physical properties of the metal as a whole. In cooling rapidly there is no time for the carbide to separate from the iron, and the metal is thus rendered both hard and brittle. Cooling the metal gradually, under the influence of great compressive force, appears to have a similar effect to rapid cooling in preventing the separation of the carbide from the metal, with this difference, that the effect is more equal throughout the mass, and that more uniform temper is likely to result.

When the British Association met at Southampton on a former occasion, Schonbein announced to the world his discovery of gun-cotton. This discovery has led the way to many valuable researches on explosives generally, in which Mr. Abel has taken a leading part. Recent investigations by him, in connection with Captain Noble, upon the explosive action of gun-cotton and gunpowder confined in a strong chamber, which have not yet been published, deserve particular attention. They show that while by the method of investigation pursued about twenty years ago by Karolye (of exploding gunpowder in very small charges in shells confined within a large shell partially exhausted of air) the composition of the gaseous products was found to be complicated and liable to variation, the chemical metamorphosis which gun-cotton sustains, when exploded under conditions such as obtain in its practical application, is simple and very uniform. Among other interesting points noticed in this direction was the fact that, as in the case of gunpowder, the proportion of carbonic acid increases, while that of carbonic oxide diminshes with the density of the charge. The explosion of gun-cotton, whether in the form of wool or loosely spun thread, or in the packed compressed form devised by Abel, furnished practically the same results if fired under pressure, that is, under strong confinement—the conditions being favorable to the full development of its explosive force; but some marked differences in the composition of the products of metamorphosis were observed when gun-cotton was fired by detonation. With regard to the tension exerted by the products of explosion, some interesting points were observed, which introduce very considerable difficulties into the investigation of the action of fired gun-cotton. Thus, whereas no marked