Open main menu

Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 65.djvu/391

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

heated by an air-bath, so that the piece of sal-ammoniac was volatilized. After this a current of hydrogen was led through both glass tubes D and E. Now ammonia diffuses more rapidly than hydrochloric acid; if, therefore, the vapor of sal-ammoniac is partially decomposed into ammonia and hydrochloric acid, we should expect that above the asbestos diaphragm there would be an excess of hydrochloric acid and beneath it an excess of ammonia. This v. Pebal showed to be the case. The hydrogen-current from D showed an acid reaction on a piece of litmus-paper in A, and that from E showed an alkaline reaction on a similar piece of litmus-paper placed in B. It was objected that the decomposition might possibly be caused by the asbestos of the diaphragm, or by the hydrogen. V. Than, therefore, made a diaphragm of sal-ammoniac, and substituted nitrogen for hydrogen, but the effect was the same.

These experiments were performed in the years 1862 and 1864. They were based on the doctrine of dissociation, which was at that time (1857) worked out by Ste. Claire-Deville, and developed by his pupils. From the most ancient times use was made of the fact that limestone at high temperatures gives off carbonic acid, and that quicklime remains. This and similar processes were studied by Ste. Claire-Deville. He found that the same law is valid for the pressure of carbonic acid over limestone and for the pressure of water vapor over liquid water at different temperatures. On these fundamental researches the theory of dissociation was based, a theory which has subsequently played an ever-increasing role in chemistry, and whereby a broad bridge was laid between physical and chemical doctrines.

At almost exactly the same time we find in the writings of Clausius on the conductivity of salt solutions the first traces of an idea that salts or other electrolytes may be partially dissociated in aqueous solutions. Buff had found that even the most minute electric force is sufficient to drive a current through a solution of a salt. Now after the scheme of Grotthuss, at that time generally accepted, the passage of the electric current through a solution is brought about in such manner that the conducting molecules, e. g., of potassium chloride (KCl), are divided into their ions, which combine again with one another in the following manner: At first, as the current is closed, the electrode A becomes positive and the electrode B negative. All the conducting molecules KCl arrange themselves so that they turn their positive ions (K) to the negative electrode B, and their negative ions (CI) to the positive electrode A. After this, one chlorine ion is given up at A and one potassium ion at B, and the other ions recombine, so that the E of the first molecule takes the CI of the second molecule, and so on (Fig. 2). Then the molecules turn round under the influence of the electric force, so that we get the scheme 3 and a new decomposition