Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 66.djvu/42

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38
THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

a powerful induction coil, keeping the walls of the containing-vessel at the temperature of liquid air, in the hope that any endothermic compound which might be formed would be rapidly cooled, and would survive the interval of temperature at which decomposition would take place naturally. But these experiments have so far yielded only negative results. There is some indication, however, that such compounds are stable at 1,500°. It might be hoped that a study of the behavior of the non-valent elements would have led to some conception of the nature of valency; but so far, no results bearing on the question have transpired. The condition of helium in the minerals from which it is obtainable by heat is not explained; and experiments in this direction have not furnished any positive information. It is always doubtful whether it is advisable to publish the results of negative experiments; for it is always possible that some more skilled or more fortunate investigator may succeed, where one has failed. But it may be chronicled that attempts to cause combination between the inactive gases and lithium, potassium, rubidium, and caesium have yielded no positive results; nor do they appear to react with fluorine. Yet conditions of experiment play a leading part in causing combination, as has been well shown by Moissan with the hydrides of the alkali-metals, and by Guntz, with those of the metals of the alkaline earths. The proof that sodium hydride possesses the formula NaH, instead of the formerly accepted one, removes one difficulty in the problem of valency; and SrH2 falls into its natural position among hydrides.

A fertile field of inorganic research lies in the investigation of structure. While the structure of organic compounds has been elucidated almost completely, that of inorganic compounds is practically undeveloped. Yet efforts have been made in this direction which appear to point a way. The nature of the silicates has been the subject of research for many years by F. W. Clarke; and the way has been opened. Much may be done by treating silicates with appropriate solvents, acid or alkaline, which differentiate between uncombined and combined silica, and which in some cases, by replacement of one metal by another, gives a clue to constitution. The complexity of the molecules of inorganic compounds, which are usually solid, forms another bar to investigation. It is clear that sulphuric acid, to choose a common instance, possesses a very complicated molecule; and the fused nitrates of sodium and potassium are not correctly represented by the simple formula? NaNO3 and KNO3. Any theory of the structure of their derivatives must take such facts into consideration; but we appear to be getting nearer the elucidation of the molecular weights of solids. Again, the complexity of solutions of the most common salts is maintained by many investigators; for example, a solution of cobalt chloride, while it undoubtedly contains among other constituents simple molecules of CoCl2, also consists of ions of a complex character, such as