Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 69.djvu/42

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38
THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY
ARE THE ELEMENTS TRANSMUTABLE, THE ATOMS DIVISIBLE AND FORMS OF MATTER BUT MODES OF MOTION?
By Professor S. L. BIGELOW
UNIVERSITY OF MICHIGAN

THE advance workers in chemistry and physics are constantly accumulating new facts and propounding new theories which must be digested and incorporated in the body of the sciences. The process of assimilation is often slow, and it is right that new and important facts should be vouched for by more than one investigator, and that a new theory should prove its usefulness before being placed beside old and tried facts and theories. But too often the effects of the advances are unduly delayed through a reluctance to revise old text-books or old lectures, perhaps not so much because of mere laziness, as because of a failure to appreciate the full force of the evidence in favor of new views, or of the advantages to be obtained by their adoption. The fact that the arguments for an innovation, for a time at least, are scattered through many journals, leads to an underestimate of their cumulative force.

It is the purpose of this article to gather the main facts, some old, many recent, most of them fairly generally known, which are compelling us to alter our old definitions, and to show what a strong argument they make in favor of believing in the transmutation of the elements, the divisibility of the atoms and that what we call matter is simply a mode of motion.

It is interesting to note the caution with which text-books express themselves when it is necessary to give definitions for these terms. By a careful choice of words most authors avoid making false statements, but they certainly do frequently lead their readers to unjustifiable conclusions. For instance, in Roscoe and Schorlemmer's 'Treatise on Chemistry,' issued in 1891, we find the definition, 'An atom is the smallest portion of matter which can enter into a chemical compound.' As is the usual custom, the ideas of the alchemists regarding the possibility of transmuting metals is held up to ridicule, and thus, by implication at least, the ultimate nature of the elements and the idea that the atom is indivisible are infallibly conveyed to the reader. A more recent instance is to be found even in the late editions of one of the most widely used texts on general inorganic chemistry. In this book, on page 4, we read, 'Molecules may be defined as the smallest particles of matter which can exist in the free state'; on page 5, 'Atoms are the smallest particles of matter which can take part in a