Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 74.djvu/560

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has completely revolutionized our knowledge of the double salts and of geological formations. One of the most beautiful applications of the phase rule is found in van't Hoff's investigations of the oceanic salt deposits at Stassfurt,[1] in which from a laboratory study of the equilibrium obtaining between the sulphates and chlorides of sodium, calcium, magnesium and potassium the great chemist was able to reconstruct the past history of the formation of the earth's crust from the primeval ocean, giving even the limits of time, the pressure and the probable temperature at which the water evaporated. The importance of such methods in mineralogy and geology is self-evident and clearly as extensive as the subjects themselves. In metallurgy the work of Roozeboom, Le Chatellier, Sorby, Stead and others on steels, bronzes, tins, alloys and ingots of metal generally have, with the aid of the microscope, given us most valuable knowledge of the continuous chemical changes and "diseases of metals" going on in these substances, which, without the guidance of the phase rule, were formerly investigated in an aimless and haphazard way, at enormous expense and waste of time. Investigations of the very complicated equilibria in such "solid solutions"[2] as carbon-steels, nickel-steels, cobalt-steels, etc., have explained the causes of brittleness and crystalline structure in steel-rails through extended use, and how such rails can be renewed by prolonged heating at high temperatures. "The variations of the engineering properties, such as tensile strength, torsional resistance, ductility, etc., with varying concentration and varying heat treatment, is a subject which can only be worked out satisfactorily with the phase rule as a guide," says Bancroft, and he adds, "we do not yet know one half the properties of our structural metals." The establishment of the true constitution of Portland cement is another telling application of the phase rule and it is thought that it will give us "clearer ideas as to the strength of cements and the elasticity of clays." Lord Kelvin expressed the hope that some day the architect might be in effect a sanitary engineer,[3] and Bancroft predicts that "the time will come in our engineering schools when the subject known as 'materials of engineering' will have to be taught by the chemist rather than by the engineer."[4]

In agricultural chemistry the phase rule serves as a guide in the

  1. 78 Van't Hoff, "Lectures on Physical Chemistry," Chicago, 1907.
  2. Solid solutions are solids dissolved in solids, and were first described by van't Hoff (Ztschr. f. phys. Chem., 1890, V., 322), who found that when certain solutions are frozen, the separated solid is not the pure solvent, but a mixture of the selvent and the solute, i. e., a solid solution, of which we have examples in the alums, glasses, colored and hyaline minerals, alloys and the "ice flowers" of the Antarctic regions.
  3. Kelvin, "Popular Lectures," 1894, II., 210.
  4. Bancroft, J. Phys. Chem., 1905, IX., 209.