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A History of Science, Volume 5(of 5) by Williams

Then Davy came forward in support of Rumford


FROM LIQUID CHLORINE TO LIQUID HYDROGEN

Nor is it merely by mutual association with the history of the Royal Institution that these great names are linked. There was a curious and even more lasting bond between them in the character of their scientific discoveries. They were all pioneers in the study of those manifestations of molecular activity which we now, following Young himself, term energy. Thus Rumford, Davy, and Young stood almost alone among the prominent scientists of the world at the beginning of the century in upholding the idea that heat is not a material substance--a chemical element--but merely a manifestation of the activities of particles of matter. Rumford's papers on this thesis, communicated to the Royal Society, were almost the first widely heralded claims for this then novel idea. Then Davy came forward in support of Rumford, with his famous experiment of melting ice by friction. It was perhaps this intellectual affinity that led Rumford to select Davy for the professorship at the Royal Institution, and thus in a sense to predetermine the character of the scientific work that should be accomplished there--the impulse which Davy himself received from Rum-ford being passed on to his pupil Faraday. There is, then, an intangible but none the less potent web of association between the scientific work of Rumford and some of the most important researches that were conducted at the Royal Institution long years after his death; and

one is led to feel that it was not merely a coincidence that some of Faraday's most important labors should have served to place on a firm footing the thesis for which Rumford battled; and that Tyndall should have been the first in his "beautiful book" called _Heat, a Mode of Motion_, to give wide popular announcement to the fact that at last the scientific world had accepted the proposition which Rumford had vainly demonstrated three-quarters of a century before.

This same web of association extends just as clearly to the most important work which has been done at the Royal Institution in the present generation, and which is still being prosecuted there--the work, namely, of Professor James Dewar on the properties of matter at excessively low temperatures. Indeed, this work is in the clearest sense a direct continuation of researches which Davy and Faraday inaugurated in 1823 and which Faraday continued in 1844. In the former year Faraday, acting on a suggestion of Davy's, performed an experiment which resulted in the production of a "clear yellow oil" which was presently proved to be liquid chlorine. Now chlorine, in its pure state, had previously been known (except in a forgotten experiment of Northmore's) only as a gas. Its transmutation into liquid form was therefore regarded as a very startling phenomenon. But the clew thus gained, other gases were subjected to similar conditions by Davy, and particularly by Faraday, with the result that several of them, including sulphurous, carbonic, and hydrochloric acids were liquefied. The method employed, stated in familiar terms, was the application of cold and of pressure. The results went far towards justifying an extraordinary prediction made by that extraordinary man, John Dalton, as long ago as 1801, to the effect that by sufficient cooling and compressing all gases might be transformed into liquids--a conclusion to which Dalton had vaulted, with the sureness of supreme genius, from his famous studies of the properties of aqueous vapor.


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