Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 22.djvu/233

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with powders of usual composition and with others in which the proportion of sulphur was considerably increased, the extent of erosive action of the products escaping from the explosion-vessel under high tension being carefully determined. With small charges a particular powder containing no sulphur was found to exert very little erosive action as compared with ordinary cannon-powder; but another powder, containing the maximum proportion of sulphur tried (15 per cent), was found equal to it under these conditions, and exerted very decidedly less erosive action than it, when larger charges were reached. Other important contributions to our knowledge of the action of fired gunpowder in guns, as well as decided improvements in the gunpowder manufactured for the very heavy ordnance of the present day, may be expected to result from a continuance of these investigations. Professor Carl Himly, of Kiel, having been engaged upon investigations of a similar nature, has lately proposed a gunpowder in which hydrocarbons precipitated from solution in naphtha take the place of the charcoal and sulphur of ordinary powder. This powder has among others the peculiar property of completely resisting the action of water, so that the old caution, "Keep your powder dry," may hereafter be unnecessary.


The extraordinary difference of condition, before and after its ignition, of such matter as constitutes an explosive agent leads us up to a consideration of the aggregate state of matter under other circumstances. As early as 1776, Alexander Volta observed that the volume of glass was changed under the influence of electrification, by what he termed electrical pressure. Dr. Kerr, Govi, and others have followed up the same inquiry, which is at present continued chiefly by Dr. George Quincke, of Heidelberg, who finds that temperature, as well as chemical constitution of the dielectric under examination, exercises a determining influence upon the amount and character of the change of volume effected by electrification; that the change of volume may under certain circumstances be effected instantaneously as in flint-glass, or only slowly as in crown-glass, and that the elastic limit of both is diminished by electrification, whereas in the case of mica and of gutta-percha an increase of elasticity takes place.

Still greater strides are being made at the present time toward a clearer perception of the condition of matter when particles are left some liberty to obey individually the forces brought to bear upon them. By the discharge of high-tension electricity through tubes containing highly rarefied gases (Geissler's tubes), phenomena of discharge were produced which were at once most striking and suggestive. The Sprengel pump afforded a means of pushing the exhaustion to limits which had formerly been scarcely reached by the imagination. At each step the condition of attenuated matter revealed varying properties when acted upon by electrical discharge and magnetic force.