Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 66.djvu/41

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37
PROBLEMS OF INORGANIC CHEMISTRY.

with phosphoretted and arsenicoretted hydrogen, especially at low temperatures.

The progress of chemical discovery, indeed, is closely connected with the invention of new methods of research, or the submitting of matter to new conditions. While Moissan led the way by elaborating the electric furnace, and thus obtained a potent agent in temperatures formerly unattainable, Spring has tried the effect of enormous pressure, and has recently found chemical action between cuprous oxide and sulphur at ordinary temperature, provided the pressure be raised to 8,000 atmospheres. Increase of pressure appears to lower the temperature of reaction. It has been known for long that explosions will not propagate in rarefied gases, and that they become more violent when the reacting gases are compressed: but we are met with difficulties, such as the non-combination of hydrogen and nitrogen, even at high temperature and great pressure; yet it is possible to measure the electromotive force (0.59 volt) in a couple consisting of gaseous nitrogen and gaseous hydrogen, the electrolyte being a solution of ammonium nitrate saturated with ammonia. Chemical action between dissolved hydrogen and nitrogen undoubtedly occurs; but it is not continuous. Again we may ask, Why? The heat evolution should be great; the gain of entropy should also be high were direct combination to occur. Why does it not occur to any measurable extent? Is it because for the initial stages of any chemical reaction, the reacting molecules must be already dissociated, and those of nitrogen are not? Is that in any way connected with the abnormally low density of gaseous nitrogen? Or is it that, in order that combination shall occur, the atoms must fit each other; and that in order that nitrogen and hydrogen atoms may fit, they must be greatly distorted? But these are speculative questions, and it is not obvious how experiments can be devised to answer them.

Many compounds are stable at low temperatures which dissociate when temperature is raised. Experiments are being made, now that liquid air is to be purchased or cheaply 'made, on the combinations of substances which are indifferent to each other at ordinary temperatures. Yet the research must be a restricted one, for most substances are solid at — 185°, and refuse to act on each other. It is probable, however, that at low temperatures compounds could be formed in which one of the elements would possess a greater valency than that usually ascribed to it; and also that double compounds of greater complexity would prove stable. Valency, indeed, appears to be in many cases a function of temperature; exothermic compounds, as is well known, are less stable, the higher the temperature. The sudden cooling of compounds produced at a high temperature may possibly result in forms being preserved which are unstable at ordinary temperatures. Experiments have been made in the hope of obtaining compounds of argon and helium by exposing various elements to the influence of sparks from