Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 78.djvu/581

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THE UNDERLYING FACTS OF SCIENCE

electron when it is energized. Atomic action and the behavior of charged, or rather unbalanced, atoms, called ions, belong as much to chemistry as to physics, but corpuscular motion is purely physical as yet; it has no direct bearing that we know of on chemical reactions. As regards the nature and dimensions of corpuscles, J. J. Thomson has estimated them at one one-thousandth the mass of the hydrogen atom. As regards speed of translation, many radiations composed of electrons approximate the speed of light; this represents almost nineteen million times more activity than the one mile per minute ascribed by Clausius to the hydrogen atom which has already been taken as a standard of comparison. There are some very interesting theories to be derived from the study of electrons.

The Atom and its Metamorphoses

The present theory of the atom as derived from radiology is that it is composed of electrons moving rapidly in all directions and necessarily in constant collision; these electrons are assumed to be held together in each individual atom by a positive force. Differences in the number of electrons in an atom give rise to different elements. Imagine a glass globe of about the same diameter as the dome of St. Peter's, in Rome, with a quantity of grains of wheat shooting about inside in all directions, and acting and reacting by continual collision; the globe itself represents the force which keeps the electrons within the compass of the atom; the grains of wheat represent the electrons. We can, if we wish, assume that the electrons have orbital motions in relation to one another, as regular as those of the planets; it is only a difference in mass and in speed, and the mass being so enormously smaller, it is not surprising that the speed be so enormously higher, and, furthermore, there is no reason for thinking that the same laws which regulate a solar system may not regulate an atomic system. When the atom disintegrates it loses some of its electrons until a balanced system is reached, and it can then be assumed to be a stable atom, of a different element, however, provided the loss of electrons was not complete. If the theory of universal, or almost universal, disintegration and re-formation of atoms is correct, there is a constant outpouring of electrons from all atoms of matter, which even with a liberal allowance of units per second would hardly amount to an appreciable difference in atomic characteristics within historical periods of time, but which, premising a common era of formation for terrestrial elements, might explain the fractional discrepancies in atomic ratios; if such a theory were true, the elements as found in other worlds might have slightly different chemical constants.

As recently suggested by the author,[1] if the atom is continually

  1. Nature, February 18, 1909, p. 459.