Open main menu

Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 56.djvu/692

This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.
676
POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

physics. In 1805 Gay-Lussac and Humboldt determined the composition of water by volume; in 1808 Gay-Lussac extended these observations, and found that in all compound gases simple volumetric relations existed; and in 1811 the entire subject was generalized into Avogadro's law. Avogadro showed that equal volumes of gases, compared under equivalent conditions, must contain equal numbers of molecules, and although the force of his discovery was not fully appreciated until much later, it is now recognized as one of the fundamental propositions of both physics and chemistry. For the first time the distinction between atoms and molecules was clearly stated, and from the density of a gas the relative weight of its molecule could be calculated. Avogadro's law rounded out and completed the atomic theory, and to its application much of the advance in organic chemistry is due. Equally striking, but less far-reaching in its consequences, was the discovery announced by Dulong and Petit in 1819, when it was shown that the specific heat of an element was inversely proportional to its atomic weight. Otherwise stated, this law asserts that the atoms of all the elements have the same capacity for heat, and an important check upon determinations of atomic weight was thus provided.

The next twenty years in the history of chemistry were years of detail rather than of permanent generalizations. The multitudinous verification of known laws, the development of experimental methods, especially methods of analysis, the discovery of new elements, the preparation of numberless new compounds, occupied the attention of most workers. This period, which may be called the Berzelian period, was enormously fruitful in results, although but few of the theories then proposed have survived to the present day. During this period the name and influence of Berzelius overshadowed all others, and his marvelous researches, carried out in a laboratory which was hardly more than a kitchen, were of almost incredible variety. For the crude symbols of Dalton, Berzelius substituted a system of chemical formulæ which could be used in chemical equations; in 1818 and 1826 he published tables of atomic weights, determined with far greater exactness than ever before; he discovered five new elements and a multitude of compounds, devised methods of research, and proposed theories which, though later to be overthrown, for many years dominated chemical science. His electro-chemical experiments led him to his dualistic theory of compounds, which interpreted each compound as made up of two parts—one positive, the other negative. The electro-positive oxides were basic, the electro-negative groups were acid; chemical affinity was electrical attraction between the two opposites; chemical union implied a neutralization of one by the