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THE

POPULAR SCIENCE

MONTHLY

 

SEPTEMBER, 1904.




THE DEVELOPMENT OF THE THEORY OF ELECTROLYTIC DISSOCIATION.[1]
By Professor SVANTE ARRHENIUS,

STOCKHOLM, SWEDEN.

AT first sight nothing seems to be more evident than that everything has a beginning and an end, and that it is possible to divide everything. Nevertheless, the philosophers of antiquity, especially the Stoicist, concluded, on purely speculative grounds, that these opinions are not at all necessary. The wonderful development of science has reached the same conclusion as these philosophers, especially Empedocles and Democritus, who lived about 500 years B. C, and for whom the ancients had already a vivid admiration.

Empedocles professed that nothing is made of nothing, and that it is impossible to annihilate anything. All that happens in the world depends upon a change of form and upon the mixture or the separation of bodies. Fire, air, water and earth are the four elements of which everything is composed. An everlasting circulation is characteristic of nature.

The doctrine of Democritus still more nearly coincided with our modern views. In his opinion bodies are built up of indefinitely small indivisible particles, which he called atoms. These are distinguished by their form and magnitude, and also give different products by their different modes of aggregation.

This atomic theory was revived by Gassendi about 1650, and then accepted by Boyle and Newton. The theory received a greatly increased importance by the discovery by Dalton of the law of multiple proportions. For instance, the different combinations of nitrogen with


  1. Address before the Royal Institution of Great Britain, June 3, 1904.