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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 4.djvu/297

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THE THEORY OF MOLECULES.

air, and he finds it, as he tells us, in striking agreement with the value predicted by the theory.

All these three kinds of diffusion—the diffusion of matter, of momentum, and of energy—are carried on by the motion of the molecules. The greater the velocity of the molecules, and the farther they travel before their paths are altered by collision with other molecules, the more rapid will be the diffusion. Now, we know already the velocity of the molecules, and therefore by experiments on diffusion we can determine how far, on an average, a molecule travels without striking another. Prof. Clausius, of Bonn, who first gave us precise ideas about the motion of agitation of molecules, calls this distance the mean path of a molecule. I have calculated, from Prof. Loschmidt's diffusion experiments, the mean path of the molecules of four well-known gases. The average distance traveled by a molecule between one collision and another is given in the table. It is a very small distance, quite imperceptible to us even with our best microscopes. Roughly speaking, it is about the tenth part of the length of a wave of light, which you know is a very small quantity. Of course the time spent on so short a path by such swift molecules must be very small. I have calculated the number of collisions which each must undergo in a second. They are given in the table, and are reckoned by thousands of millions. No wonder that the traveling power of the swiftest molecule is but small, when its course is completely changed thousands of millions of times in a second.

The three kinds of diffusion also take place in liquids, but the relation between the rates at which they take place is not so simple as in the case of gases. The dynamical theory of liquids is not so well understood as that of gases, but the principal difference between a gas and a liquid seems to be that, in a gas each molecule spends the greater part of its time in describing its free path, and is for a very small portion of its time engaged in encounters with other molecules, whereas in a liquid the molecule has hardly any free path, and is always in a state of close encounter with other molecules.

Hence, in a liquid, the diffusion of motion from one molecule to another takes place much more rapidly than the diffusion of the molecules themselves, for the same reason that it is more expeditious in a dense crowd to pass on a letter from hand to hand than to give it to a special messenger to work his way through the crowd. I have here a jar, the lower part of which contains a solution of copper sulphate, while the upper part contains pure water. It has been standing here since Friday, and you see how little progress the blue liquid has made in diffusing itself through the water above. The rate of diffusion of a solution of sugar has been carefully observed by Voit. Comparing his results with those of Loschmidt on gases, we find that about as much diffusion takes place in a second in gases as requires a day in liquids.

The rate of diffusion of momentum is also slower in liquids than