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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 73.djvu/64

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THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY

positions of the particles within the atom. These rates, however, as measured by the period of decay, vary from thousands of years to a few seconds for the different educts, and that irregularly in the order of transformation—such great differences could only be explained by an infinite number of components, with large free paths, electrons, in other words. It would then remain to be shown what caused a certain great number of negative electrons to form an electro-positive -particle, and become expelled with great violence from their surroundings.

Naturally, the failure of a hypothesis to explain certain facts does not invalidate the latter. Rutherford's brilliant analysis of the curves of increasing and decreasing ionization and the agreement observed with calculated results prove that he is not dealing with mere fortuitous coincidences. Many of his conclusions seem incontrovertible upon his premises; but here again, the advocatus diaboli must step in and ask whether the premises are axiomatic: two of them appear to me to be doubtful. (1) A curve of decay is based on electroscopic measurements upon the tacit assumption that the rays sent out by that particular phase are always the same; but we are told that both and rays vary greatly in speed and momentum, hence neither variety would show a uniform ionizing power; assuming that a substance did send out rays for a long time, but that their velocities were gradually reduced, would not the ionization indicate a more rapid decay than was really the case? (2) It is practically assumed throughout that ionization is directly proportioned to the amount of radio-active material present: but this remains to be proven. Where layers of any density are involved, we know that it is not true, owing to internal absorption, etc.; for ideally thin layers, weighing and other measurement are out of the question.

I do not think that this latter objection ought to be dismissed lightly, when we find such a phenomenon as the almost universal ionization of the atmosphere ascribed to the presence of radium or its educts. Thomson himself has shown a variety of ways for ionizing air, when any variation in the amount of radium present—or, rather, absent—is out of the question; some of these serve particularly well to explain the phenomena in the open air. Recently, indeed, quite a number of investigators have observed diurnal variations in this atmospheric ionization, sufficiently marked to require some other explanation than the production of emanations from the earth or surrounding materials. Gustave Le Bon, in his "Evolution de la Matiere," shows how the gold-leaf electroscope is discharged when connected with some very dry sulphate of quinine, which is taking up hygroscopic moisture. Are we ready, with him, to assume that the quinine is catalyzing some atoms into nirvaña, or that the electroscope may indicate many changes that are not intraatomic?