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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 61.djvu/19

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ELECTRONIC THEORY OF ELECTRICITY.

association with masses as large as atoms, but negative electricity is identified with corpuscles or masses only a small fraction of the size of an atom. This does not prove that an atom may not include positive corpuscles or electrons, but only that so far we have not been able to isolate them.

 

The Electronic Theory of Electricity.

From this point of view a theory of electricity originates called the electronic theory. The principal objects of consideration in this theory are these electrons which constitute what we call electricity. An atom of matter in its neutral condition has been assumed to consist of an outer shell or envelope of negative electrons associated with some core or matrix which has an opposite electrical quality, such that if an electron is withdrawn from the atom the latter is left positively electrified.

A neutral atom minus an electron constitutes the natural unit of positive electricity and the electron and the neutral atom minus an electron are sometimes called negative and positive ions. Deferring for a moment a further analysis of possible atomic structure we may say that with the above hypothesis in hand we have then to express our statements of electrical facts in terms of the electron as the fundamental idea.

All that can be attempted here is a very brief exposition of the success which has so far attended this effort to create a new range of electrical conceptions. Let us consider first the fundamental difference between substances in respect of electrical conductivity. In the electronic theory what is the distinction between conductors and non-conductors? It must be remembered that on the electronic hypothesis an electric current is a movement of electrons. Hence a conductor must be a substance in which electrons free to move exist. It is considered therefore that in metals and good conductors a certain proportion of the atoms are broken up into positive and negative ions or into electrons and remainders of atoms which we may call coelectrons. There may be a constant decomposition and recomposition of atoms taking place, and any given electron so to speak flits about, now forming part of one atom and now of another and anon enjoying a free existence. It resembles a person visiting from house to house forming a unit in different households and in between being a solitary person in the street. In non-conductors on the other hand the electrons are much restricted in their movements, and can be displaced a little way but are pulled back again when released. The positive and negative ions or electrons and coelectrons never have the opportunity to part company very far.

The reader who is familiar with the modern doctrine of the ionization of salts in solution will see that a close similarity exists between this view of the atomic state of a metal and the chemical state of a salt in solution. The ionic theory of solution is that if some salt, say