Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 10.djvu/372

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lute electrometer, which serves for reducing the scale-readings of other instruments to absolute measure, and which was used by Thomson in his measurement of the electrostatic force producible by a Daniell's battery and in many other investigations. Those who have seen the collection of electrometers in the Loan Collection at South Kensington will not think it too much to say that to Sir W. Thomson is due our present system of practical electrometry.

"But while thus engaged in investigations in electrostatics and magnetism, there were many other branches of science that were receiving from him advancement in a not less remarkable way. There is no part of his work of higher importance than his investigations on the Dynamical Theory of Heat. These were communicated in a series of papers to the Royal Society of Edinburgh, the first of which was given in 1849. It was a critical account of Carnot's memoir of 1824, 'Réflexions sur la Puissance Motrice du Feu.' Though Rumford and Davy had, in the beginning of this century, experimentally disproved the material theory of heat, their experiments and arguments were unheeded and nearly unknown; and it was only after 1843, when Joule actually determined the dynamical equivalent of heat, that the great truth that heat is a mode of motion was admitted and appreciated. Thus Carnot, although dissatisfied with it, was obliged to adopt the material theory of heat in 1824; and, regarding heat as indestructible, spoke of the letting down of the heat from a higher to a lower temperature, and looked on the production of work by the heat-engine as a phenomenon analogous to that in which water, descending from a higher to a lower level, does work by means of a water-wheel. Thomson, among the first to appreciate the importance of Joule's results, set himself to alter the theory given by Carnot into agreement with the true theory; and in the series of papers referred to, placed the whole science of thermodynamics on a thoroughly scientific basis. In 1846 he first suggested the reckoning of temperature on an absolute thermodynamic scale independent of the properties of any particular substance. Subsequently, in consequence of experimental investigations of the thermodynamic properties of air, and other gases, made in conjunction with Joule, he showed how to define a thermodynamic scale of temperature having the convenient property that air-thermometers and other gas-thermometers agree with it as closely as they agree with one another. This system of reckoning temperature gives great facility for the simple expression of thermodynamic principles and results.

"Having here mentioned Joule and Thomson together, we cannot omit to remark that some of the most admirable researches in thermodynamics were those undertaken in conjunction by these two attached friends.

"Among the many important results of Sir W. Thomson's investigations in thermodynamics, one of the most remarkable was his discovery of the principle of dissipation of energy, announced by him in 1852. During any transformation of energy of one form into energy of another form there is always a certain amount of energy rendered unavailable for further useful application. No known process in Nature is exactly reversible, that is to say, there is no known process by which we can convert a given amount of energy of one form into energy of another form, and then, reversing the process, reconvert the energy of the second form thus obtained into the original quantity of energy of the first form. In fact, during any transformation of energy from one form into another, there is always a certain portion of the energy changed into heat in the process of conversion; and the heat thus produced becomes dissipated and diffused by radiation and conduction.