Open main menu

Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 61.djvu/27

This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.

We might then imagine an atom to be built up of concentric shells of electrons like the coats of an onion alternately positive and negative, the outermost layer being in all cases negative. The difference between the total number of positive and negative electrons is the valency of the atom.

On this view an atom of hydrogen would consist of from 700 to 1,000 positive and negative electrons arranged in concentric layers in a spherical form. The vibrations which emit light are not those of the atom as a whole but of the individual electrons which compose it.

The reason for assuming that in all cases the outermost layer of electrons is negative is that if it were not so, if some atoms had their outer layers of negative and some of positive electrons, two atoms when they collided would become entangled and totally lose their individuality. There would be no permanence. Hence our present atoms may be, so to speak, the survivors in a struggle for existence which has resulted in the survival only of all atoms which are of like sign in the outer layer of electrons. We see an instance of a similar action in the case of the like directed rotation of all the planets round the sun which is due to the operation of the law of conservation of angular momentum. As a consequence of the equality of sign of the outer layer of electrons two atoms cannot approach infinitely near to each other. They mutually repel at very small distances. This suggestion makes it clear why we only know at present free negative electrons; it is because we can only detach a corpuscle or electron from the outer layer of an atom. It is clear, however, that the complete law of mutual action of electrons has yet to be determined. We have also to account for gravitation and this involves the postulate that all atomic groups of electrons without regard to sign must attract each other. Hence we need some second Newton who shall formulate for us the true law of action of these electrons which form the 'foundation stones of the material universe.' Facts seem to suggest that the complete mathematical expression for the law of mutual action of two electrons must show:

1. That at exceedingly small distances they all repel each other without regard to sign.

2. That at greater distances positive electrons repel positive and negative repel negative, but unlike electrons attract, with a force which varies inversely as the square of the distance.

3. Superimposed on the above there must be a resultant effect such that all atoms attract each other at distances great compared with their size without regard to the relative number of positive and negative electrons which compose them, inversely as the square of the distance.

In this last condition we have the necessary postulate to account for universal gravitation in accordance with Newton's law.

It is conceivable, however, that this differential or resultant uni-