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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 4.djvu/299

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THE THEORY OF MOLECULES.

To the first rank belong the relative masses of the molecules of different gases, and their velocities in metres per second. These data are obtained from experiments on the pressure and density of gases, and are known to a high degree of precision.

In the second rank we must place the relative size of the molecules of different gases, the length of their mean paths, and the number of collisions in a second. These quantities are deduced from experiments on the three kinds of diffusion. Their received values must be regarded as rough approximations till the methods of experimenting are greatly improved.

There is another set of quantities which we must place in the third rank, because our knowledge of them is neither precise, as in the first rank, nor approximate, as in the second, but is only as yet of the nature of a probable conjecture. These are the absolute mass of a molecule, its absolute diameter, and the number of molecules in a cubic centimetre. We know the relative masses of different molecules with great accuracy, and we know their relative diameters approximately. From these we can deduce the relative densities of the molecules themselves. So far we are on firm ground.

The great resistance of liquids to compression makes it probable that their molecules must be at about the same distance from each other as that at which two molecules of the same substance in the gaseous form act on each other during an encounter. This conjecture has been put to the test by Lorenz Meyer, who has compared the densities of different liquids with the calculated relative densities of the molecules of their vapors, and has found a remarkable correspondence between them.

Now, Loschmidt has deduced from the dynamical theory the following remarkable proportion: As the volume of a gas is to the combined volume of all the molecules contained in it, so is the mean path of a molecule to one-eighth of the diameter of a molecule.

Assuming that the volume of the substance, when reduced to the liquid form, is not much greater than the combined volume of the molecules, we obtain from this proportion the diameter of a molecule. In this way Loschmidt, in 1865, made the first estimate of the diameter of a molecule. Independently of him and of each other, Mr. Stoney in 1868, and Sir W. Thomson, in 1870, published results of a similar kind, those of Thomson being deduced not only in this way, but from considerations derived from the thickness of soap-bubbles, and from the electric properties of metals.

According to the table, which I have calculated from Loschmidt's data, the size of the molecules of hydrogen is such that about two million of them in a row would occupy a millimetre, and a million million million million of them would weigh between four and five grammes!

In a cubic centimetre of any gas at standard pressure and tem-