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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 61.djvu/22

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form the molecules of hydrogen which may be represented by (H, H) similarly for other gases. Certain neutral atoms such as those of argon are monatomic and non-valent and these appear to be unable to enter into combination either with each other or with other atoms. Accordingly, in a mass of free hydrogen there are no free electrons and all the positively charged and negatively charged H atoms are in union. Hence the gas is a non-conductor of electricity. But we can make it a conductor by heating it to a high temperature. The explanation of this is that a high temperature dissociates some of the molecules into atoms and these under the action of electric force move in opposite directions, thus creating an electric current. Thus air at ordinary temperatures is an almost perfect non-conductor, but at a white heat it conducts electricity freely.

The monovalent elements like hydrogen are those neutral atomic structures which can lose one electron or take up one electron, becoming respectively positive atomic ions and negative atomic ions. In the same way the divalent elements such as oxygen are those neutral atomic structures which can part with two electrons and take up two and so on for trivalent, quadrivalent, etc., atoms. The work required to remove the second electron probably is very much greater than that required to remove the first. Hence in polyvalent atoms the valencies have unequal energy values.

Consider now a mass of intermingled oxygen and hydrogen consisting of neutral molecules. The state is a stable one as long as all the molecules are neutral. If, however, we dissociate a few of the hydrogen and oxygen molecules by an electric spark or by heat then there is a recombination. A positive oxygen ion unites with two negative hydrogen ions and a negative oxygen ion with two positive hydrogen ions and the result is two neutral molecules of water. This combination takes place because the union of oxygen ions with hydrogen ions to form water evolves more heat and exhausts more potential energy than the combination of oxygen with oxygen and hydrogen with hydrogen ions in equivalent quantity. The energy set free by the union of the O and H is sufficient to continue the dissociation of further gaseous molecules so the action is explosive and is propagated throughout the mass.

There is however a broad distinction between the elements in this respect, viz.: that some atoms are prevalently electropositive and others electronegative. A metallic atom for instance is electropositive, but the atoms of non-metals are mostly electronegative. Moreover metals in the mass are electrically good conductors, whereas non-metals in the mass are non-conductors or bad conductors. This may be explained by the varying degree of force required to detach electrons from neutral atoms and conversely the varying degree of attachment of electrons