Popular Science Monthly/Volume 22/November 1882/Science in Relation to the Arts I
|SCIENCE IN RELATION TO THE ARTS.|
IN venturing to address the British Association from this chair, I feel that I have taken upon myself a task involving very serious responsibility. The Association has for half a century fulfilled the important mission of drawing together, once every year, scientists from all parts of the country for the purpose of discussing questions of mutual interest, and of cultivating those personal relations which aid so powerfully in harmonizing views, and in stimulating concerted action for the advancement of science.
A sad event casts a shadow over our gathering. While still mourning the irreparable loss science had sustained in the person of Charles Darwin, whose bold conceptions, patient labor, and genial mind made him almost a type of unsurpassed excellence, telegraphic news reached Cambridge, just a month ago, to the effect that our Honorary Secretary, Professor F. M. Balfour, had lost his life during an attempted ascent of the Aiguille Blanche de Penteret. Although only thirty years of age, few men have won distinction so rapidly and so deservedly. After attending the lectures of Michael. Foster, he completed his studies of biology under Dr. Anton Dohrn at the Zoölogical Station of Naples in 1875. In 1878 he was elected a Fellow, and in November last a member of Council of the Royal Society, when he was also awarded one of the Royal Medals for his embryological researches. Within a short interval of time Glasgow University conferred on him their honorary degree of LL. D., he was elected President of the Cambridge Philosophical Society, and, after having declined very tempting offers from the Universities of Oxford and Edinburgh, he accepted a professorship of Animal Morphology created for him by his own university. Few men could have borne without hurt such a stream of honorable distinctions, but in young Balfour genius and independence of thought were happily blended with industry and personal modesty; these won for him the friendship, esteem, and admiration of all who knew him.
Since the days of the first meeting of the Association in York in 1831, great changes have taken place in the means at our disposal for exchanging views, either personally or through the medium of type. The creation of the railway system has enabled congenial minds to attend frequent meetings of those special societies which have sprung into existence since the foundation of the British Association, among which I need only name here the Physical, Geographical, Meteorological, Anthropological, and Linnæan, cultivating abstract science, and the Institution of Mechanical Engineers, the Institution of Naval Architects, the Iron and Steel Institute, the Society of Telegraph Engineers and Electricians, the Gas Institute, the Sanitary Institute, and the Society of Chemical Industry, representing applied science. These meet at frequent intervals in London, while others, having similar objects in view, hold their meetings at the university towns, and at other centers of intelligence and industry throughout the country, giving evidence of great mental activity, and producing some of those very results which the founders of the British Association wished to see realized. If we consider further the extraordinary development of scientific journalism which has taken place, it can not surprise us when we meet with expressions of opinion to the effect that the British Association has fulfilled its mission, and should now yield its place to those special societies it has served to call into existence. On the other hand, it may be urged that the brilliant success of last year's anniversary meeting, enhanced by the comprehensive address delivered on that occasion by my distinguished predecessor in office, Sir John Lubbock, has proved, at least, that the British Association is not dead in the affections of its members, and it behooves us at this, the first ordinary gathering in the second half-century, to consider what are the strong points to rely upon for the continuance of a career of success and usefulness.
If the facilities brought home to our doors of acquiring scientific information have increased, the necessities for scientific inquiry have increased in a greater ratio. The time was when science was cultivated only by the few, who looked upon its application to the arts and manufactures as almost beneath their consideration; this they were content to leave in the hands of others, who, with only commercial aims in view, did not aspire to further the objects of science for its own sake, but thought only of benefiting by its teachings. Progress could not be rapid under this condition of things, because the man of pure science rarely pursued his inquiry beyond the mere enunciation of a physical or chemical principle, while the simple practitioner was at a loss how to harmonize the new knowledge with the stock of information which formed his mental capital in trade.
The advancement of the last fifty years has, I venture to submit, rendered theory and practice so interdependent, that an intimate union between them is a matter of absolute necessity for our future progress. 'Take, for instance, the art of dyeing, and we find that the discovery of new coloring matters derived from waste products, such as coal-tar, completely changes its practice, and renders an intimate knowledge of the science of chemistry a matter of absolute necessity to the practitioner. In telegraphy and in the new arts of applying electricity to lighting, to the transmission of power, and to metallurgical operations, problems arise at every turn, requiring for their solution not only an intimate acquaintance with, but a positive advance upon, electrical science, as established by purely theoretical research in the laboratory. In general engineering, the mere practical art of constructing a machine so designed and proportioned as to produce mechanically the desired effect would suffice no longer. Our increased knowledge of the nature of the mutual relations between the different forms of energy makes us see clearly what are the theoretical limits of effect; these, although beyond our absolute reach, may be looked upon as the asymptotes to be approached indefinitely by the hyperbolic course oft practical progress, of which we should never lose sight. Cases arise, moreover, where the introduction of new materials of construction, or the call for new effects, renders former rules wholly insufficient. In all these cases practical knowledge has to go hand in hand with advanced science in order to accomplish the desired end.
Far be it from me to think lightly of the ardent students of nature, who, in their devotion to research, do not allow their minds to travel into the regions of utilitarianism and of self-interest. These, the high-priests of science, command our utmost admiration; but it is not to them that we can look for our current progress in practical science, much less can we look for it to the "rule-of-thumb" practitioner, who is guided by what comes nearer to instinct than to reason. It is to the man of science, who also gives attention to practical questions, and to the practitioner, who devotes part of his time to the prosecution of strictly scientific investigations, that we owe the rapid progress of the present day, both merging more and more into one class, that of pioneers in the domain of Nature. It is such men that Archimedes must have desired when he refused to teach his disciples the art of constructing his powerful ballistic engines, exhorting them to give their attention to the principles involved in their construction, and that Telford, the founder of the Institution of Civil Engineers, must have had in his mind's eye when he defined civil engineering as "the art of directing the great sources of power in nature."
These considerations may serve to show that although we see the men of both abstract and applied science group themselves in minor bodies for the better prosecution of special objects, the points of contact between the different branches of knowledge are ever multiplying, all tending to form part of a mighty tree—the tree of modern science—under whose ample shadow its cultivators will find it both profitable and pleasant to meet, at least once a year; and, considering that this tree is not the growth of one country only, but spreads both its roots and branches far and wide, it appears desirable that at these yearly gatherings other nations should be more fully represented than has hitherto been the case. The subjects discussed at our meetings are, without exception, of general interest; but many of them bear an international character, such as the systematic collection of magnetic, astronomical, meteorological, and geodetical observations, the formation of a universal code for signaling at sea, and for distinguishing lighthouses, and especially the settlement of scientific nomenclatures and units of measurement, regarding all of which an international accord is a matter of the utmost practical importance.
As regards the measures of length and weight it is to be regretted that this country still stands aloof from the movement initiated in France toward the close of the last century; but, considering that in scientific work metrical measure is now almost universally adopted, and that its use has been already legalized in this country, I venture to hope that its universal adoption for commercial purposes will soon follow as a matter of course. The practical advantages of such a measure to the trade of this country would, I am convinced, be very great, for English goods, such as machinery or metal rolled to current sections, are now almost excluded from the Continental market, owing to the unit measure employed in their production. The principal impediment to the adoption of the metre consists in the strange anomaly that although it is legal to use that measure in commerce, and although a copy of the standard metre is kept in the Standards Department of the Board of Trade, it is impossible to procure legalized rods representing it, and to use a non-legalized copy of a standard in commerce is deemed fraudulent. Would it not be desirable that the British Association should endeavor to bring about the use in this country of the metre and kilogramme, and, as a preliminary step, petition the Government to be represented on the International Metrical Commission, whose admirable establishment at Sèvres possesses, independently of its practical work, considerable scientific interest, as a well-found laboratory for developing methods of precise measurement?
Next in importance to accurate measures of length, weight, and time, stand, for the purposes of modern science, those of electricity.
The remarkably clear lines separating conductors from non-conductors of electricity, and magnetic from non-magnetic substances, enable us to measure electrical quantities and effects with almost mathematical precision; and, although the ultimate nature of this, the youngest scientifically investigated form of energy, is yet wrapped in mystery, its laws are the most clearly established, and its measuring instruments (galvanometers, electrometers, and magnetometers), are among the most accurate in physical science. Nor could any branch of science or industry be named in which electrical phenomena do not occur, to exercise their direct and important influence.
If, then, electricity stands foremost among the exact sciences, it follows that its unit measures should be determined with the utmost accuracy. Yet, twenty years ago, very little advance had been made toward the adoption of a rational system. Ohm had, it is true, given us the fixed relations existing between electromotive force, resistance, and quantity of current; Joule had established the dynamical equivalent of heat and electricity; and Gauss and Weber had proposed their elaborate system of absolute magnetic measurement. But these invaluable researches appeared only as isolated efforts, when, in 1862, the Electric Unit Committee was appointed by the British Association, at the instance of Sir William Thomson, and it is to the long-continued activity of this committee that the world is indebted for a consistent and practical system of measurement, which, after being modified in details, received universal sanction last year by the International Electrical Congress assembled at Paris.
At this congress, which was attended officially by the leading physicists of all civilized countries, the attempt was successfully made to bring about a union between the statical system of measurement that had been followed in Germany and some other countries and the magnetic or dynamical system developed by the British Association, also between the geometrical measure of resistance, the (Werner) Siemens unit, that had been generally adopted abroad, and the British Association unit, intended as a multiple of Weber's absolute unit, though not entirely fulfilling that condition. The congress, while adopting the absolute system of the British Association, referred the final determination of the unit measure of resistance to an international committee, to be appointed by the representatives of the several governments; they decided to retain the mercury standard for reproduction and comparison, by which means the advantages of both systems are happily combined, and much valuable labor is utilized; only, instead of expressing electrical quantities directly in absolute measure, the congress has embodied a consistent system, based on the Ohm, in which the units are of a value convenient for practical measurements. In this, which we must hereafter know as the "practical system," as distinguished from the "absolute system," the units are named after leading physicists, the Ohm, Ampère, Volt, Coulomb, and Farad.
I would venture to suggest that two further units might, with advantage, be added to the system decided on by the International Congress at Paris. The first of these is the unit of magnetic quantity or pole. It is of much importance, and few will regard otherwise than with satisfaction the suggestion of Clausius that the unit should be called a "Weber," thus retaining a name most closely connected with electrical measurements, and only omitted by the congress in order to avoid the risk of confusion in the magnitude of the unit current with which his name had been formerly associated.
The other unit I should suggest adding to the list is that of power. The power conveyed by a current of an Ampère through the difference of potential of a Volt is the unit consistent with the practical system. It might be appropriately called a Watt, in honor of that master-mind in mechanical science, James Watt. He it was who first had a clear physical conception of power, and gave a rational method of measuring it. A Watt, then, expresses the rate of an Ampère multiplied by a Volt, while a horse-power is 746 Watts, and a Cheval de Vapeur 735.
The system of electro-magnetic units would then be:
|1. Weber,||the unit of magnetic||quantity||=||108||C. G. S. units,|
|3. Volt,||""||electromotive force||=||108||"|
Before the list can be looked upon as complete two other units may have to be added, the one expressing that of magnetic field, and the other of heat in terms of the electro-magnetic system. Sir William Thomson suggested the former at the Paris congress, and pointed out that it would be proper to attach to it the name of Gauss, who first theoretically and practically reduced observations of terrestrial magnetism to absolute measure. A Gauss will, then, be defined as the intensity of field produced by a Weber at a distance of one centimetre; and the Weber will be the absolute C. G. S. unit strength of magnetic pole. Thus the mutual force between two ideal point-poles, each of one Weber strength held at unit distance asunder, will be one dyne; that is to say, the force which, acting for a second of time on a gramme of matter, generates a velocity of one centimetre per second.
The unit of heat has hitherto been taken variously as the heat required to raise a pound of water at the freezing-point through 1° Fahr. or Cent., or, again, the heat necessary to raise a kilogramme of water 1° Cent. The inconvenience of a unit so entirely arbitrary is sufficiently apparent to justify the introduction of one based on the electro-magnetic system, viz., the heat generated in one second by the current of an Ampere flowing through the resistance of an Ohm. In absolute measure its value is 107 C. G. S. units, and, assuming Joule's equivalent as 42,000,000, it is the heat necessary to raise 0·238 gramme of water 1° Cent., or, approximately, the 1000 part of the arbitrary unit of a pound of water raised 1° Fahr., and the 4000 of the kilogramme of water raised 1° Cent. Such a heat unit, if found acceptable, might with great propriety, I think, be called the Joule, after the man who has done so much to develop the dynamical theory of heat. Professor Clausius urges the advantages of the statical system of measurement for simplicity, and shows that the numerical values of the two systems can readily be compared by the introduction of a factor which he proposes to call the critical velocity; this Weber has already shown to be nearly the same as the velocity of light. It is not immediately evident how, by the introduction of a simple multiple, signifying a velocity, the statical can be changed into dynamical values, and I am indebted to my friend Sir William Thomson for an illustration which struck me as remarkably happy and convincing. Imagine a ball of conducting matter so constituted that it can at pleasure be caused to shrink. Now let it first be electrified and left insulated with any quantity of electricity on it. After that, let it be connected with the earth by an excessively fine wire or a not perfectly dry silk fiber; and let it shrink just so rapidly as to keep its potential constant, till the whole charge is carried off. The velocity with which its surface approaches its center is the electrostatic measure of the conducting power of the fiber. Thus we see how "conducting power" is, in electrostatic theory, properly measured in terms of a velocity. Weber has shown how, in electromagnetic theory, the resistance, or the reciprocal of the conducting power of a conductor, is properly measured by a velocity. The critical velocity, which measures the conducting power in electrostatic reckoning and the resistance in electromagnetic, of one and the same conductor, measures the number of electrostatic units in the electromagnetic unit of electric quantity. Without waiting for the assembling of the International Committee. charged with the final determination of the Ohm, one of its most distinguished members, Lord Rayleigh, has, with his collaborateure, Mrs. Sidgwick, continued his important investigation in this direction at the Cavendish Laboratory, and has lately placed before the Royal Society a result which will probably not be surpassed in accuracy. His redetermination brings him into close accord with Dr. Werner Siemens, their two values of the mercury unit being 0·95418 and 0·9536 of the B. A. unit respectively, or 1 mercury unit 0·9413 109 C. G. S. units.
Shortly after the publication of Lord Rayleigh's recent results, Messrs. Glazebrook, Dodds, and Sargant, of Cambridge, communicated to the Royal Society two determinations of the Ohm, by different methods; and it is satisfactory to find that their final values differ only in the fourth decimal, the figures being, according to
|Lord Rayleigh||1 Ohm||0·98651||Second|
|Messrs. Glazebrook, etc.||0·986439||"|
Professor E. Wiedemann, of Leipsic, has lately called attention to the importance of having the Ohm determined in the most accurate manner possible, and enumerates four distinct methods, all of which should unquestionably be tried with a view of obtaining concordant results, because upon its accuracy will depend the whole future system of measurement of energy of whatever form.
The word "energy" was first used by Young in a scientific sense, and represents a conception of recent date, being the outcome of the labors of Carnot, Mayer, Joule, Grove, Clausius, Clerk-Maxwell, Thomson, Stokes, Helmholtz, Macquorn-Rankine, and other laborers, who have accomplished for the science regarding the forces in nature what we owe to Lavoisier, Dalton, Berzelius, Liebig, and others, as regards chemistry. In this short word "energy" we find all the efforts in nature, including electricity, heat, light, chemical action, and dynamics, equally represented, forming, to use Dr. Tyndall's apt expression, so many "modes of motion." It will readily be conceived that, when we have established a fixed numerical relation between these different modes of motion, we know beforehand what is the utmost result we can possibly attain in converting one form of energy into another, and to what extent our apparatus for effecting the conversion falls short of realizing it. The difference between ultimate theoretical effect and that actually obtained is commonly called loss, but, considering that energy is indestructible, represents really secondary effect which we obtain without desiring it. Thus friction in the working parts of a machine represents a loss of mechanical effect, but is a gain of heat, and in like manner the loss sustained in transferring electrical energy from one point to another is accounted for by heat generated in the conductor. It sometimes suits our purpose to augment the transformation of electrical into heat energy at certain points of the circuit when the heat-rays become visible, and we have the incandescent electric light. In effecting a complete severance of the conductor for a short distance, after the current has been established, a very great local resistance is occasioned, giving rise to the electric arc, the highest development of heat ever attained. Vibration is another form of lost energy in mechanism, but who would call it a loss if it proceeded from the violin of a Joachim or a Norman-Neruda?
Electricity is the form of energy best suited for transmitting an effect from one place to another; the electric current passes through certain substances—the metals—with a velocity limited only by the retarding influence caused by electric charge of the surrounding dielectric, but approaching probably under favorable conditions that of radiant heat and light, or 300,000 kilometres per second; it refuses, however, to pass through oxidized substances, glass, gums, or through gases except when in a highly rarefied condition. It is easy, therefore, to confine the electric current within bounds, and to direct it through narrow channels of extraordinary length. The conducting wire of an Atlantic cable is such a narrow channel: it consists of a copper wire, or strand of wires, five mm. in diameter, by nearly 5,000 kilometres in length, confined electrically by a coating of gutta-percha about four mm. in thickness. The electricity from a small galvanic battery passing into this channel prefers the long journey to America in the good conductor, and back through the earth, to the shorter journey across the four mm. in thickness of insulating material. By an improved arrangement the alternating currents employed to work long submarine cables do not actually complete the circuit, but are merged in a condenser at the receiving station after having produced their extremely slight but certain effect upon the receiving instrument, the beautiful siphon recorder of Sir William Thomson. So perfect is the channel and so precise the action of both the transmitting and receiving instruments employed, that two systems of electric signals may be passed simultaneously through the same cable in opposite directions, producing independent records at either end. By the application of this duplex mode of working to the direct United States cable under the superintendence of Dr. Muirhead, its transmitting power was increased from twenty-five to sixty words a minute, being equivalent to about twelve currents or primary impulses per second. In transmitting these impulse-currents simultaneously from both ends of the line, it must not be imagined, however, that they pass each other in the manner of liquid waves belonging to separate systems; such a supposition would involve momentum in the electric flow, and although the effect produced is analogous to such an action, it rests upon totally different grounds—namely, that of a local circuit at each terminus being called into action automatically whenever two similar currents are passed into the line simultaneously from both ends. In extending this principle of action, quadruplex telegraphy has been rendered possible, although not yet for long submarine lines.
The minute currents here employed are far surpassed as regards delicacy and frequency by those revealed to us by that marvel of the present day, the telephone. The electric currents caused by the vibrations of a diaphragm acted upon by the human voice naturally vary in frequency and intensity according to the number and degree of those vibrations, and each motor-current, in exciting the electro-magnet forming part of the receiving instrument, deflects the iron diaphragm occupying the position of an armature to a greater or smaller extent according to its strength. Savart found that the fundamental la springs from four hundred and forty complete vibrations in a second, but what must be the frequency and modulations of the motor-current and of magnetic variations necessary to convey to the ear, through the medium of a vibrating armature, such a complex of human voices and of musical instruments as constitutes an opera performance! And yet such performances could be distinctly heard and even enjoyed as an artistic treat by applying to the ears a pair of the double telephonic receivers at the Paris Electrical Exhibition, when connected with a pair of transmitting instruments in front of the foot-lights of the Grand Opera. In connection with the telephone, and with its equally remarkable adjunct the microphone, the names of Riess, Graham Bell, Edison, and Hughes will ever be remembered.
Considering the extreme delicacy of the currents working a telephone, it is obvious that those caused by induction from neighboring telegraphic line wires would seriously interfere with the former, and mar the speech or other sounds produced through their action. To avoid such interference the telephone-wires if suspended in the air require to be placed at some distance from telegraphic line wires, and to be supported by separate posts. Another way of neutralizing interference consists in twisting two separately insulated telephone-wires together, so as to form a strand, and in using the two conductors as a metallic circuit to the exclusion of the earth; the working current will, in that case, receive equal and opposite inductive influences, and will, therefore, remain unaffected by them. On the other hand, two insulated wires instead of one are required for working one set of instruments, and a serious increase in the cost of installation is thus caused. To avoid this, Mr. Jacob has lately suggested a plan of combining pairs of such metallic circuits again into separate working pairs, and these again with other working pairs, whereby the total number of telephones capable of being worked without interference is made to equal the total number of single wires employed. The working of telephones and telegraphs in metallic circuit has the further advantage that mutual volta induction between the outgoing and returning currents favors the transit, and neutralizes, on the other hand, the retarding influence caused by charge in under-ground or submarine conductors. These conditions are particularly favorable to under-ground line wires, which possess other important advantages over the still prevailing over-ground system, in that they are unaffected by atmospheric electricity, or by snow-storms and heavy gales, which at not very rare intervals of time put us back to pre-telegraphic days, when the letter carrier was our swiftest messenger.
The under-ground system of telegraphs, first introduced into Germany by Werner Siemens in the years 1847-'48, had to yield for a time to the over-ground system owing to technical difficulties, but it has been again resorted to within the last four years, and multiple land cables of solid construction now connect all the important towns of that country. The first cost of such a system is no doubt considerable (being about £38 per kilometre of conductor as against £8 10s. the cost of land lines); but, as the under-ground wires are exempt from frequent repairs and renewals, and as they insure continuity of service, they are decidedly the cheaper and better in the end. The experience afforded by the early introduction of the under-ground system in Germany was not, however, without its beneficial results, as it brought to light the phenomena of lateral induction, and of faults in the insulating coating, matters which had to be understood before submarine telegraphy could be attempted with any reasonable prospect of success.
Regarding the transmission of power to a distance, the electric current has now entered the lists in competition with compressed air, the hydraulic accumulator, and the quick-running rope as used at Schaffhausen to utilize the power of the Rhine-fall. The transformation of electrical into mechanical energy can be accomplished with no further loss than is due to such incidental causes as friction and the heating of wires; these in a properly designed dynamo-electric machine do not exceed 10 per cent, as shown by Dr. John Hopkinson, and, judging from recent experiments of my own, a still nearer approach to ultimate perfection is attainable. Adhering, however, to Dr. Hopkinson's determination for safety's sake, and assuming the same percentage in reconverting the current into mechanical effect, a total loss of 19 per cent results. To this loss must be added that through electrical resistance in the connecting line wires, which depends upon their length and conductivity, and that due to heating by friction of the working parts of the machine. Taking these as being equal to the internal losses incurred in the double process of conversion, there remains a useful effect of 100 38 62 per cent, attainable at a distance, which agrees with experimental results, although in actual practice it would not be safe at present to expect more than 50 per cent of ultimate useful effect, to allow for all mechanical losses.
In using compressed air or water for the transmission of power, the loss can not be taken at less than 50 per cent, and as it depends upon fluid resistance it increases with distance more rapidly than in the case of electricity. Taking the loss of effect in all cases as 50 per cent, electric transmission presents the advantage that an insulated wire does the work of a pipe capable of withstanding high internal pressure, which latter must be more costly to put down and to maintain. A second metallic conductor is required, however, to complete the electrical circuit, as the conducting power of the earth alone is found unreliable for passing quantity currents, owing to the effects of polarization; but, as this second conductor need not be insulated, water or gas pipes, railway metals, or fencing-wire, may be called into requisition for the purpose. The small space occupied by the electro-motor, its high working speed, and the absence of waste products, render it specially available for the general distribution of power to cranes and light machinery of every description. A loss of effect of 50 per cent does not stand in the way of such applications, for it must be remembered that a powerful central engine of best construction produces motive-power with a consumption of two pounds of coal per horsepower per hour, whereas small engines distributed over a district would consume not less than five; we thus see that there is an advantage in favor of electric transmission as regards fuel, independently of the saving of labor and other collateral benefits.
To agriculture, electric transmission of power seems well adapted for effecting the various operations of the farm and fields from one center. Having worked such a system myself in combination with electric lighting and horticulture for upward of two years, I can speak with confidence of its economy, and of the facility with which the work is accomplished in charge of untrained persons.
As regards the effect of the electric light upon vegetation there is little to add to what was stated in my paper read before Section A last year, and ordered to be printed with the report, except that, in experimenting upon wheat, barley, oats, and other cereals sown in the open air, there was a marked difference between the growth of the plants influenced and those uninfluenced by the electric light. This was not very apparent till toward the end of February, when, with the first appearance of mild weather, the plants, under the influence of an electric lamp of 4,000 candle-power placed about five metres above the surface, developed with extreme rapidity, so that by the end of May they stood above four feet high, with the ears in full bloom, when those not under its influence were under two feet in height, and showed no sign of the ear.
In the electric railway first constructed by Dr. Werner Siemens, at Berlin, in 1879, electric energy was transmitted to the moving carriage or train of carriages through the two rails upon which it moved, these being sufficiently insulated from each other by being placed upon well creosoted cross-sleepers. At the Paris Electrical Exhibition, the current was conveyed through two separate conductors making sliding or rolling contact with the carriage, whereas in the electric railway now in course of construction in the north of Ireland (which when completed will have a length of twelve miles) a separate conductor will be provided by the side of the railway, and the return circuit completed through the rails themselves, which in that case need not be insulated; secondary batteries will be used to store the surplus energy created in running down-hill, to be restored in ascending steep inclines, and for passing roadways where the separate insulated conductor is not practicable. The electric railway possesses great advantages over horse or steam power for towns, in tunnels, and in all cases where natural sources of energy, such as water-falls, are available; but it would not be reasonable to suppose that it will in its present condition compete with steam propulsion upon ordinary railways. The transmission of power by means of electric conductors possesses the further advantage over other means of transmission that, provided the resistance of the rails be not very great, the power communicated to the locomotive reaches its maximum when the motion is at its minimum—that is, in commencing to work, or when encountering an exceptional resistance—whereas the utmost economy is produced in the normal condition of working when the velocity of the power-absorbing nearly equals that of the current-producing machine.
The deposition of metals from their solutions is perhaps the oldest of all useful applications of the electric current, but it is only in very recent times that the dynamo-current has been practically applied to the refining of copper and other metals, as now practiced at Birmingham and elsewhere, and upon an exceptionally large scale at Ocker, in Germany. The dynamo-machine there employed was exhibited at the Paris Electrical Exhibition by Dr. Werner Siemens, its peculiar feature being that the conductors upon the rotating armature consisted of solid bars of copper thirty mm. square, in section, which were found only just sufficient to transmit the large quantity of electricity of low tension necessary for this operation. One such machine consuming four-horse power deposits about three hundred kilogrammes of copper per twenty-four hours; the motive-power at Ocker is derived from a water-fall.
Electric energy may also be employed for heating purposes, but in this case it would obviously be impossible for it to compete in point of economy with the direct combustion of fuel for the attainment of ordinary degrees of heat. Bunsen and Sainte-Claire Deville have taught us, however, that combustion becomes extremely sluggish when a temperature of 1,800° C. has been reached, and for effects at temperatures exceeding that limit the electric furnace will probably find advantageous applications. Its specific advantage consists in being apparently unlimited in the degree of heat attainable, thus opening out a new field of investigation to the chemist and metallurgist. Tungsten has been melted in such a furnace, and eight pounds of platinum have been reduced from the cold to the liquid condition in twenty minutes.
The largest and most extensive application of electric energy at the present time is to lighting, but, considering how much has of late been said and written for and against this new illuminant, I shall here confine myself to a few general remarks. Joule has shown that, if an electric current is passed through a conductor, the whole of the energy lost by the current is converted into heat; or, if the resistance be localized, into radiant energy comprising heat, light, and actinic rays. Neither the low heat-rays nor the ultra-violet of highest refrangibility affect the retina, and may be regarded as lost energy, the effective rays being those between the red and violet of the spectrum, which in their combination produce the effect of white light.
Regarding the proportion of luminous to non-luminous rays proceeding from an electric arc or incandescent wire, we have a most valuable investigation by Dr. Tyndall, recorded in his work on "Radiant Heat." Dr. Tyndall shows that the luminous rays from a platinum wire heated to its highest point of incandescence, which may be taken at 1,700° C., formed 1 part of the total radiant energy emitted, and 1 part in the case of an arc-light worked by a battery of 50 Grove's elements. In order to apply these valuable data to the case of electric lighting by means of dynamo-currents, it is necessary in the first place to determine what is the power of 50 Grove's elements of the size used by Dr. Tyndall, expressed in the practical scale of units as now established. From a few experiments lately undertaken for myself, it would appear that 50 such cells have an electromotive force of 98·5 Volts, and an internal resistance of 13·5 Ohms, giving a current of 7·3 Ampères when the cells are short-circuited. The resistance of a regulator such as Dr. Tyndall used in his experiments may be taken at 10 Ohms, the current produced in the arc would be Ampères (allowing one Ohm for the leads), and the power consumed Watts; the light power of such an arc would be about 150 candles, and, comparing this with an arc of 3,308 candles produced by 1,162 Watts, we find that , i.e., 7·3 times the electric energy produce i.e., 22 times the amount of light measured horizontally. If, therefore, in Dr. Tyndall's arc 1 of the radiant energy emitted was visible as light, it follows that in a powerful arc of 3,300 candles, , or fully 1, are luminous rays. In the case of the incandescent light (say a Swan light of twenty-candle power) we find in practice that nine times as much power has to be expended as in the case of the arc-light; hence part of the power is given out as luminous rays, as against 1 in Dr. Tyndall's incandescent platinum—a result sufficiently approximate considering the wide difference of conditions under which the two are compared.
These results are not only of obvious practical value, but they seem to establish a fixed relation between current, temperature, and light produced, which may serve as a means to determine temperatures exceeding the melting-point of platinum with greater accuracy than has hitherto been possible by actinimetric methods in which the thickness of the luminous atmosphere must necessarily exercise a disturbing influence. It is probably owing to this circumstance that the temperature of the electric arc as well as that of the solar photosphere has frequently been greatly overestimated.
The principal argument in favor of the electric light is furnished by its immunity from products of combustion which not only heat the lighted apartments, but substitute carbonic acid and deleterious sulphur compounds for the oxygen upon which respiration depends; the electric light is white instead of yellow, and thus enables us to see pictures, furniture, and flowers as by daylight; it supports growing plants instead of poisoning them, and by its means we can carry on photography and many other industries at night as well as during the day. The objection frequently urged against the electric light, that it depends upon the continuous motion of steam or gas engines, which are liable to accidental stoppage, has been removed by the introduction into practical use of the secondary battery; this, although not embodying a new conception, has lately been greatly improved in power and constancy by Planté, Faure, Volckmar, Sellon, and others, and promises to accomplish for electricity what the gas-holder has done for the supply of gas and the accumulator for hydraulic transmission of power.
It can no longer be a matter of reasonable doubt, therefore, that electric lighting will take its place as a public illuminant, and that, even though its cost should be found greater than that of gas, it will be preferred for the lighting of drawing-rooms and dining-rooms, theatres and concert-rooms, museums, churches, warehouses, show-rooms, printing establishments, and factories, and also the cabins and engine rooms of passenger-steamers. In the cheaper and more powerful form of the arc-light, it has proved itself superior to any other illuminant for spreading artificial daylight over the large areas of harbors, railway-stations, and the sites of public works. When placed within a holophote the electric lamp has already become a powerful auxiliary in effecting military operations both by sea and land.
The electric light may be worked by natural sources of power such as water-falls, the tidal wave, or the wind, and it is conceivable that these may be utilized at considerable distances by means of metallic conductors. Some five years ago I called attention to the vastness of those sources of energy, and the facility offered by electrical conduction in rendering them available for lighting and power-supply, while Sir William Thomson made this important matter the subject of his admirable address to Section A last year at York, and dealt with it in an exhaustive manner. The advantages of the electric light and of the distribution of power by electricity have lately been recognized by the British Government, who have just passed a bill through Parliament to facilitate the establishment of electrical conductors in towns, subject to certain regulating clauses to protect the interests of the public and of local authorities. Assuming the cost of electric light to be practically the same as gas, the preference for one or other will in each application be decided upon grounds of relative convenience, but I venture to think that gas-lighting will hold its own as the poor man's friend.
[To be continued.]
- Presidential Address, delivered at the Fifty-ninth Annual Meeting of the British Association, held at Southampton, August 23, 1882.