Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 9.djvu/279

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search
This page has been validated.


THE

POPULAR SCIENCE

MONTHLY.

 

JULY, 1876.


 

THE MECHANICAL ACTION OF LIGHT.[1]
By WILLIAM CROOKES, F. R. S.

TO generate motion has been found a characteristic common, with one exception, to all the phases of physical force. We hold the bulb of a thermometer in our hands, and the mercury expands in bulk, and, rising along the scale, indicates the increase of heat it has received. We heat water, and it is converted into steam, and moves our machinery, our carriages, and our iron-clads. We bring a load-stone near a number of iron-filings, and they move toward it, arranging themselves in peculiar and intricate lines; or we bring a piece of iron near a magnetic needle, and we find it turned away from its ordinary position. We rub a piece of glass with silk, thus throwing it into a state of electrical excitement, and we find that bits of paper or thread fly toward it, and are, in a few moments, repelled again. If we remove the supports from a mass of matter it falls, the influence of gravitation being here most plainly expressed in motion, as shown in clocks and water-mills. If we fix pieces of paper upon a stretched string, and then sound a musical note near it, we find certain of the papers projected from their places. Latterly the so-called "sensitive flames," which are violently agitated by certain musical notes, have become well known as instances of the conversion of sound into motion. How readily chemical force undergoes the same transformation is manifested in such catastrophes as those of Bremerhaven, in the recent deplorable coal-mine explosions, and indeed in every discharge of a gun.

But light, in some respects the highest of the powers of Nature, has not been hitherto found capable of direct conversion into motion, and such an exception cannot but be regarded as a singular anomaly.

This anomaly the researches which I am about to bring before you

  1. A lecture delivered at the Royal Institution.