Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 59.djvu/333

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AUGUST, 1901.



THE masses of the atoms of the various gases were first investigated about thirty years ago by methods due to Loschmidt, Johnstone Stoney and Lord Kelvin. These physicists, using the principles of the kinetic theory of gases and making certain assumptions, which it must be admitted are not entirely satisfactory, as to the shape of the atom, determined the mass of an atom of a gas; and when once the mass of an atom of one substance is known the masses of the atoms of all other substances are easily deduced by well-known chemical considerations. The results of these investigations might be thought not to leave much room for the existence of anything smaller than ordinary atoms, for they showed that in a cubic centimeter of gas at atmospheric pressure and at 0° C. there are about 20 million, million, million () molecules of gas.

Though some of the arguments used to get this result are open to question, the result itself has been confirmed by considerations of quite a different kind. Thus Lord Rayleigh has shown that this number of molecules per cubic centimeter gives about the right value for the optical opacity of the air, while a method, which I will now describe, by which we can directly measure the number of molecules in a gas leads to a result almost identical with that of Loschmidt. This method is founded on Faraday's laws of electrolysis; we deduce from these laws that the current through an electrolyte is carried by the atoms of the electrolyte, and that all these atoms carry the same charge, so that the weight of the atoms required to carry a given quantity of electricity is proportional to the quantity carried. We know