Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 22.djvu/62

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THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

a copy of the standard metre is kept in the Standards Department of the Board of Trade, it is impossible to procure legalized rods representing it, and to use a non-legalized copy of a standard in commerce is deemed fraudulent. Would it not be desirable that the British Association should endeavor to bring about the use in this country of the metre and kilogramme, and, as a preliminary step, petition the Government to be represented on the International Metrical Commission, whose admirable establishment at Sèvres possesses, independently of its practical work, considerable scientific interest, as a well-found laboratory for developing methods of precise measurement?

 

Next in importance to accurate measures of length, weight, and time, stand, for the purposes of modern science, those of electricity.

The remarkably clear lines separating conductors from non-conductors of electricity, and magnetic from non-magnetic substances, enable us to measure electrical quantities and effects with almost mathematical precision; and, although the ultimate nature of this, the youngest scientifically investigated form of energy, is yet wrapped in mystery, its laws are the most clearly established, and its measuring instruments (galvanometers, electrometers, and magnetometers), are among the most accurate in physical science. Nor could any branch of science or industry be named in which electrical phenomena do not occur, to exercise their direct and important influence.

If, then, electricity stands foremost among the exact sciences, it follows that its unit measures should be determined with the utmost accuracy. Yet, twenty years ago, very little advance had been made toward the adoption of a rational system. Ohm had, it is true, given us the fixed relations existing between electromotive force, resistance, and quantity of current; Joule had established the dynamical equivalent of heat and electricity; and Gauss and Weber had proposed their elaborate system of absolute magnetic measurement. But these invaluable researches appeared only as isolated efforts, when, in 1862, the Electric Unit Committee was appointed by the British Association, at the instance of Sir William Thomson, and it is to the long-continued activity of this committee that the world is indebted for a consistent and practical system of measurement, which, after being modified in details, received universal sanction last year by the International Electrical Congress assembled at Paris.

At this congress, which was attended officially by the leading physicists of all civilized countries, the attempt was successfully made to bring about a union between the statical system of measurement that had been followed in Germany and some other countries and the magnetic or dynamical system developed by the British Association, also between the geometrical measure of resistance, the (Werner) Siemens unit, that had been generally adopted abroad, and the British Association unit, intended as a multiple of Weber's absolute unit,