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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 56.djvu/267

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253
ELECTRICITY FROM THALES TO FARADAY.

then a most intense and pure evolution of light followed, which on separating the points extended to a gorgeous arc." It was at first supposed that the galvanic or voltaic electricity was distinct from the so-called "frictional" or "ordinary" electricity.

A distinguished contemporary of Cavendish was Coulomb, the value of whose work in developing certain exceedingly important mathematical laws with regard to action at a distance, surface densities, and rates of charge dissipation can hardly be overestimated. His name was given to the torsion balance which, since his day, has been the standard instrument for measuring electric and magnetic attractions and repulsions. The importance of his work has since been recognized by the perpetuation of his name in connection with the unit of quantity of electricity, as that of Volta has been honored by its use, abbreviated (volt), to designate the unit of electrical tension or pressure.

Certain highly instructive and interesting data were accumulated about this time by Volta, Laplace, Saussure, and the renowned chemist Lavoisier, in connection with the subject of electrification produced when evaporation, and the liberation of gases and vapors in general from any cause, occurs. The liquid, solid, or mixture liberating the gas was contained in a metallic dish and the resultant electrification of the latter examined qualitatively. Volta's observations led him to conclude that the electrification was always negative, but Saussure demonstrated finally that its sign was dependent on the material of the dish. These experimenters covered, between them all, a somewhat extensive field, examining, among other things, the electrification resulting from the ebullition of various liquids, from the ordinary combustion of fuel, and from the decomposition of acids by metals to liberate hydrogen.

About the end of the first decade of the century Poisson attacked the phenomena of electricity analytically, and succeeded in demonstrating the right of electrical investigation to rank among the exact sciences. Of his most important mathematical propositions is one in which, assuming as a working hypothesis the existence of two mutually attracting fluids, he deduced formulæ covering the distribution of these fluids on the surfaces of two conducting spheres, in or out of contact.

A great deal of work was done during the end of the last century and the beginning of the present one on what is now known as pyro-electrification. The Abbé Haüy discovered that fragments of tourmaline crystal exhibited opposite electrifications on opposite extremities of their lines of cleavage. It is this crystal also which has unusually remarkable powers of polarizing light, and which, under electro-magnetic stress, suffers modifications of the latter property.