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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 72.djvu/333

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329
PHYSICS

electric charge. These processions are always double, the atomic carriers of the positive charge moving in one direction, those carrying the negative charge in the other. The same quantity of positive electricity is carried by one procession, as negative electricity by the other. We have not only measured the charge carried by a single atom, but the average speed with which the atoms traverse the solution. It has been found, further, that atoms of the different chemical elements having the same mating value, technically called valence, always carry the same unvarying charge, whether the atoms themselves be light or heavy. These charged atoms, in some cases atom groups, are spoken of as ions.

Such electrolytic experiments as these have led to two surprising results. First: no electric charge smaller than that carried by an atom of the hydrogen valence has yet been found. Second: all other small charges are exact multiples of this value.

We have long been familiar with the idea of atoms of matter, but here for the first time we come across something which looks very like an atom, or natural unit, of electricity. The justification for calling it an atom of electricity is like the argument for the atom of matter. Moreover, we know some eighty different kinds of material atoms, but only two kinds of electric atoms, a positive and a negative. Thus the electric atom of the two has the greater claim to simplicity. When we speak of an electric atom disregarding for the time the matter associated with it, we call it, not an ion, but an electron. Evidence will later be given suggesting ways by which we may wrench a negative electron wholly free from matter, and experiment with it in its detached and pure state.

We are now in a position to consider the rĂ´le electric forces play in holding atoms together within a compound molecule, for, from the foregoing, it appears when a molecule is broken in two, the fragments are always found equally and oppositely charged, and they doubtless held these charges within the molecule. But the distance separating the two parts was then so small that all the lines of force from the positive charge ended at once on the equal negative charge, and no force lines strayed beyond the molecular boundary. Hence no evidence of an electrical charge could be found in the ether outside the molecule. It seems probable, therefore, that the electric force between the atoms of matter in the molecule supplies the chemist with the cement he has long called chemical affinity.

The ratio of the electric charge to the mass of the particle on which it rides (in our processions) has come to be one of the most important quantities in physics. As we know both the quantity of matter and quantity of electricity transferred by a given electric current, we can express this ratio for each chemical element. Hydrogen gives the largest ratio found in solutions.

Systematic study of the conduction of electricity in gases is of more