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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 57.djvu/70

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POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

ally. One form, dissolved in water, twisted a ray of polarized light to the left, the other produced a rotation to the right, while the crystals of the two acids, similar in all other respects, also showed a right- and left-handedness in the arrangement of their planes. The crystal of one variety resembled the other as would its reflection in a mirror—the same, but reversed. These differences, discovered by Pasteur as long ago as 1848, the theory of valence could not explain; to interpret them, and other similar cases, the arrangement of the atoms in space had to be considered.

In 1874 two chemists, Van t'Hoff and Lebel, working independently, offered a solution of the problem, and stereochemistry, the chemistry of molecular structure in three dimensions, was founded. They proposed, in effect, to treat the carbon atom essentially as a tetrahedron, the four angles corresponding to the four units of valence or bonds of affinity. They then studied the linking or union of such tetrahedra, and found that with their aid the formulæ for tartaric acid could be developed in different ways, showing right- and left-handed atomic groupings. Other similar compounds were equally explicable. Thus the definite conception of a tridimensional, geometric atom led to a new development of structural formulæ, from which many discoveries have already proceeded. The fruitfulness of the speculation vindicates its use, but it is only the first step in a method of research which must in time be applied to all of the chemical elements. Probably the study of crystalline form will be connected with these chemico-structural expressions, and from the union some greater generalizations will be born. From the geometry of the crystal to the geometry of the molecule there must be some legitimate transition. With all their utility, our present conceptions of chemical structure are incomplete; they represent only portions or special phases of some great general law, but so far as they go, properly used, they are valid.

But light is not the only physical force involved in chemical changes; heat and electricity are far more important. Heat, in particular, is essential to every chemical operation; it provokes combination and effects decomposition; it appears in one reaction and vanishes in another; apart from thermal phenomena the science of chemistry could not exist. From the very beginnings of chemistry this interdependence has been recognized, and its study has led to notable discoveries and to great enlargements of resource. In the theory of phlogiston the connection between heat and chemical change was crudely stated, and when Lavoisier saw that combustion was oxidation, thermochemistry began to exist.

In every chemical change a definite amount of heat is either