Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 66.djvu/43

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39
PROBLEMS OF INORGANIC CHEMISTRY.

(CoCl4)″. And what holds for cobalt chloride also undoubtedly holds for many similar compounds.

In determining the constitution of the compounds of carbon, stereo-chemistry has played a great part. The ordinary structural formulæ are now universally acknowledged to be only pictorial, if, indeed, that word is legitimate; perhaps it would be better to say that they are distorted attempts at pictures, the drawing of which is entirely free from all rules of perspective. But these formulæ may in almost every case be made nearly true pictures of the configuration of the molecules. The benzine formula, to choose an instance which is by no means the simplest, has been shown by Collie to be imitated by a model which represents in an unstrained manner the behavior of that body on treatment with reagents. But in the domain of inorganic chemistry, little progress has been made. Some ingenious ideas of the geologist Sollas on this problem have hardly received the attention which they deserve; perhaps they may have been regarded as too speculative. On the other hand, Le Bel's and Pope's proof of the stereo-isomerism of certain compounds of nitrogen; Pope's demonstration of the tetrahedral structure of the alkyl derivatives of tin; and Smiles's syntheses of stereo-isomeric sulphur compounds give us the hope that further investigation will lead to the classification of many other elements from this point of view. Indeed, the field is almost virgin soil; but it is well worth while cultivating. There is no doubt that the investigation of other organo-metallic compounds will result in the discovery of stereo-isomerides; yet the methods of investigation capable of separating such constituents have in most cases still to be discovered.

The number of chemical isomerides among inorganic compounds is a restricted one. Werner has done much to elucidate this subject in the case of complex ammonia derivatives of metals and their salts; but there appears to be little doubt that if looked for, the same or similar phenomena would be discoverable in compounds with much simpler formulas. The two forms of So3, sulphuric anhydride, are an instance in point. No doubt formation under different conditions of temperature and pressure might result in the greater stability of some forms which under our ordinary conditions are changeable and unstable. The fact that under higher pressures than are generally at our disposal different forms of ice have been proved to exist, and the application of the phase-rule to such cases, will greatly enlarge our knowledge of molecular isomerism.

The phenomena of catalysis have been extensively studied of recent years, and have obviously an important bearing on such problems. A catalytic agent is one which accelerates or retards the velocity of reaction. Without inquiring into the mechanism of catalysis, its existence may be made to influence the rate of chemical change, and to render stable bodies which under ordinary conditions are unstable. For if it is possible to accelerate a chemical change in such a way that the