The Liquefaction of Gases/Appendix

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(Referred to at p. 28.)


Experiments on the remarkable Effects which take place in the Gases, by Change in their Habitudes, or elective Attractions, when mechanically compressed. By THOMAS NORTHMORE, Esq. In a Letter from the Author.[1]

Devonshire Street, Portland Place
Dec. 17, 1805.

IT was my intention to have postponed troubling you with the following experiments upon the condensation of the gases, until I had brought them to a greater degree of perfection; but being informed that several of them have already, by means of which I am ignorant, and probably in a mutilated state, found their way to the press, any further delay seems improper. If then you deem the present communication worthy a place in your interesting Journal, it is entirely at your service.

It had long ago occurred to me, that the various affinities which take place among the gases under the common pressure of the atmosphere, would undergo considerable alteration by the influence of condensation; and the success attending the violent method adopted by the French chemists, which violence did not appear to me requisite, afforded additional encouragement to my undertaking some experiments upon the subject.

I communicated this to the late chemical operator in the Royal Institution, a gentleman eminently conversant in the science, and with whom I was then engaged in a series of experiments: he not only approved of my design, but seemed to think it not improbable that an extensive field might thus be opened to future discoveries. Whether these opinions are justly founded, is now left for you, Sir, and the public to judge.

In entering upon a field entirely new, obstacles were of course to be expected: nor without reason; for though I had applied to one of the most eminent philosophical instrument-makers in London, Mr. Cuthbertson, yet I began to fear, even at the outset, that his skill would be set at defiance. The first instruments which he made for the present purpose were, a brass condensing-pump, with a lateral spring for the admission of the gas by means of stop-cock and bladder; two pear-shaped receivers, one of metal of the capacity of seven cubic inches, and another of glass of about three and a half: these were connected by a brass stop-cock, having a screw at each end. The metallic receiver was soon found to be of little or no utility, as well on account of its liability to be acted upon by the generated acids; its being too capacious, and thus consuming too large a quantity of gas: as because, though the result of an experiment might thus be known, yet the changes which the subjects might undergo would necessarily escape observation. The glass receiver obviated all these difficulties, and one or two imperfect experiments were performed with it: but the stop-cock speedily failed in its effect. For the power of the compressed gases was so great, partly from their elasticity, and partly (where affinities had operated) from their corrosive quality, as absolutely to wear a channel in the metal of which the plug was made, and thus to effect their escape. But not to trouble you any further with the obstacles that occurred, and which are mentioned only to prevent unnecessary expence to others, I have at last, by Mr. Cuthbertson's assistance, procured a connecting-tube, to which a spring-valve is adapted that has hitherto answered every purpose.

The instruments which I now use, are, 1st. An exhausting syringe; 2d. A condensing-pump, with two lateral springs for different gases; 3d. The connecting spring-valve; and lastly, glass receivers, which should have been of various sizes, but the one mentioned above having burst, that which I have principally used in the following experiments, is of about five cubic inches and a quarter in capacity, and made of glass well annealed and a quarter of an inch in thickness. Besides these instruments, I have occasionally applied Mr. Cuthbertson's double syphon-gage, by which the number of atmospheres condensed in the receiver, or rather the elastic power of the gases, may be measured; but this is rendered of less service, because a stop-cock must then be placed between the receiver and spring-valve, which frequently impairs the whole experiment; and also because, after a certain degree of condensation, and more particularly upon the admixture of the gases, new affinities usually take place, which tend to diminish the elasticity: the greatest number of atmospheres my gage has yet measured, is eighteen. These, Sir, with some bladders and stop-cocks, various iron screw-keys, and a wooden guard for the legs in case of bursting, constitute the principal part of the requisite apparatus.

I now proceed to the experiments, premising that the first four were made with the imperfect apparatus, when the gas was continually making its escape through the stop-cock.

Experiment I.

Into the glass receiver, of three cubic inches and a half capacity, were compressed in the following order: Hidrogen, two (wine) pints; oxigen, two pints; nitrogen, two pints. The result was, water which bedewed the inside of the receiver; white floating vapours (probably the gaseous oxide of nitrogen); and an acid which reddened litmus paper. Mr. Accum was present at this experiment, and from his opinion, as well as from succeeding experiments, I have reason to think that this acid is the nitric.

Experiment II.

As a difference of arrangement in the order of the gases tends considerably to vary the result, I repeated the former experiment (having first poured a little lime-water into the receiver) by injecting first the oxigen, about three pints, then equal quantities of hidrogen and nitrogen. Much of this gas escaped, owing to the imperfection of the instrument; but upon the affusion of the nitrogen, the white vapours again appeared in the receiver; water seemed likewise to be formed; and some yellow particles were seen floating upon the lime-water. These particles probably arose from the resinous substance, used in fastening on the cap of the receiver, being dissolved by the nitrous gas formed during condensation.

I would just observe, that the magnet seemed to be affected during this experiment; but as there is iron used in the machine, this may be otherwise accounted for.

Experiment III.

Two pints of carbonic acid, and two of hidrogen, were subjected to condensation. The result was, a watery vapour, and a gas of rather offensive smell.

Experiment IV.

Trying to inflame phosphorus by the condensation of atmospheric air, the bottom of the machine (where it had been repaired) burst out with an explosion. This happened when I had immersed the apparatus in water to discover where the air escaped. The receiver was full of the fumes of the phosphorus, which was itself dispersed in the vessel of water. I afterwards repeated this experiment with the more perfect apparatus, but I could not inflame the phosphorus, and the fumes which arose at first soon disappeared. There was just enough acid (probably phosphoric) formed in the inside of the receiver to tinge litmus.

Experiment V.

Having now the spring-valve, and new receiver of five cubic inches and a half capacity, I poured in two scruples of solution of potash, and then injected two pints of hidrogen, two of nitrogen, and three of oxigen. This quantity was hardly sufficient for the capacity of the receiver, and the result was only a smell of the gaseous oxide of nitrogen, a few yellowish fumes, and scarce enough acidity to tinge the edge of the test paper: of course, I could not effect the formation of nitrate of potash.

Experiment VI.

I now determined to begin with the nitrogen, which always appeared to me to undergo the most important chemical changes, and therefore injected two pints of nitrogen, three of oxigen, and two of hidrogen. Upon the condensation of the nitrogen, it speedily assumed an orange-red colour, which upon the accession of the oxigen, gradually diminished, and at length disappeared, though at first it seemed rather deeper. A moist vapour, coating the inside of the receiver, arose upon the compression of the hydrogen, which moisture was strongly acid to the taste, coloured litmus, and, when very much diluted with water, acted upon silver.

Experiment VII.

Nearly the same as the last, but with different arrangement. The nitrogen, three pints and a half, was first introduced; then the hidrogen,[2] two pints; and next the oxigen, three and a half. The nitrogen formed the orange-red colour as before; the hidrogen produced white clouds at first (quœre ammonia?) which afterwards disappeared, and the orange-red colour became lighter; but upon the affusion of the oxigen, the colour did not disappear as in the last experiment, but, if any thing, became darker. I then injected two pints more of hidrogen, but this had little or no effect upon the colour. Some vapour was generated, which was, as usual, strongly acid.

Experiment VIII.

Previous to the bursting of the small receiver, I had put in it a scruple of lime, and condensed upon it three pints of nitrogen. The result was, a little reddish colour at first, which soon vanished. Upon repeating this experiment in the large receiver, I could produce no colour at all. In my present state of knowledge I am unable to account for this circumstance; but as soon as I get my new receivers of a smaller capacity, I mean to repeat the experiment.

Besides the above, I have made various other experiments with different gases, but I think it right to repeat them with greater accuracy before I submit them to the eye of the public: if upon that repetition they appear to me to be attended with results of sufficient importance to occupy a place in your Journal, I will take the liberty of communicating them to you, and am. Sir,

Your most obedient servant,


P. S. I think it necessary to add, that during the course of the above-mentioned experiments, there was a great variation of temperature in the atmosphere, from the heat of 70 degrees of Fahrenheit to the cold of 33.


Experiments on condensed Gases. By T. NORTHMORE.[3]



I NOW take the liberty of presenting you with a continuation of my experiments upon the condensation of the gases, but first beg leave to make one observation, viz. that the quantity of gas said to be injected in each experiment, cannot (particularly in the preceding article) always be depended upon; for its tendency to escape is so constant and powerful, as frequently to elude every effort of mine to prevent it, and if it can find no other exit, it will sometimes escape by the side of the piston of the forcing pump. In the preceding experiments I have endeavoured as much as possible to obviate this evil, but not always with the success that I could wish.

Repeating the eighth experiment mentioned in my former letter, (see Vol. XII. p. 372-3) viz. the condensation of nitrogen upon lime, in order to discover the cause of the loss of colour in the nitrogen, I perceived that this arose from its fixation, and a nitrate of lime was the result. This experiment, on account of the elasticity of nitrogen previous to its change of habitude, requires some caution; for one of my best receivers, three-eighths of an inch thick, was shivered in pieces with a violent explosion, after I had set it aside to see the effect of time upon the compressed gas.

Experiment 9. Upwards of a pint of nitrogen was condensed, and upon this I pumped one pint of gaseous oxide of carbon. The colour of the nitrogen was destroyed; nitrous acid was formed; and upon collecting the liberated gaseous oxide, it burnt not unlike alcohol. The two gases together were at first highly elastic.

From the facility with which nitrogen becomes united and fixed in various bodies, and from its expansive force when liberated from that state, I know not whether I am sufficiently warranted in suggesting an opinion, that the explosive force of various compounds may in a great measure be attributed to the sudden liberation of this fixed gas. To this cause I partly attribute the fulminating silver of Berthollet; the fulminating gold, and various nitrates; and the detonation which accompanies the decomposition of ammoniac by oxigenated muriatic acid gas.

Exp. 10. Having been unsuccessful in my endeavours to inflame phosphorus by the compression of atmospheric air, (see Exp. 4.) I now tried oxigen, but with little better effect. The phosphorus appeared to be somewhat discoloured, and I thought had a tendency to liquify, as it does when put upon a heated plate of iron. Indeed I have no doubt that some heat is generated by the condensation of air, since the thermometer rises upon external application to the receiver.

Exp. 11. Upon the compression of nearly two pints of oxigenated muriatic acid gas in a receiver two and a quarter cubic inches capacity, it speedily became converted into a yellow fluid, of such extreme volatility under the common pressure of the atmosphere, that it instantly evaporates upon opening the screw of the receiver. I need not add, that this fluid, so highly concentrated, is of a most insupportable pungency. When atmospheric air was pumped into the empty receiver, it was speedily filled with dense white fumes. There was a trifling residue of a yellowish substance left after the evaporation, which probably arose from a small portion of the oil and grease used in the machine, mixed with some of the concentrated gas; it yielded to sulphuric ether, and destroyed vegetable colours.

This gas is very injurious to the machine, and on that account difficult to work.

Exp. 12. Upon half a pint of oxigen was injected one pint of oxigenated muriatic acid gas. The result was a thicker substance, which did not so soon evaporate, and a yellowish mass was left behind.

Exp. 13. Upon half a pint of nitrogen was injected one pint of oxy-muriatic gas. The result was a still thicker substance, and the yellow colour deeper, nor did it appear to act so powerfully upon vegetable colours. Much of the grease of the machine was carried down in both these last experiments, which formed part of the yellow residue, and yielded only to ether.

Exp. 14. Having condensed about a pint of carbonic acid, the receiver very unexpectedly burst with violence. This circumstance I attribute to the vicinity of the furnace, and I mention it to guard others against standing too near a fire in these experiments; nor perhaps may it be useless to add another precaution, that of using goggles, or at least a thick plate of glass when examining the results.

I now took a new receiver of three cubic inches of capacity, and pumped in one pint of carbonic acid, and upon this rather more than a pint of oxigenated muriatic acid gas.

The union produced a light sap-green colour, but no fluid, though as usual the oil of the machine had retained enough efficacy to destroy vegetable colours.

Exp. 15. Upon rather more than a pint of hidrogen, which was highly elastic, were compressed two pints of the oxigenated muriatic gas. The result was a light yellow-green colour, and no fluid. Some smoke or vapour seemed to issue out of the receiver upon turning the screw, and the gas was highly destructive of colouring matter.

Exp. 16. I now proceeded to the muriatic acid gas, and upon the condensation of a small quantity of it, a beautiful green coloured substance adhered to the side of the receiver, which had all the qualities of muriatic acid; but upon a large quantity, four pints, being condensed, the result was a yellowish-green glutinous substance, which does not evaporate, but is instantly absorbed by a few drops of water; it is of a highly pungent quality, being the essence of muriatic acid. As this gas easily becomes fluid, there is little or no elasticity, so that any quantity may be condensed without danger. My method of collecting this, and other gases which are absorbable by water, is by means of an exhausted florence flask (and in some cases an empty bladder) connected by a stop-cock with the extremity of the retort.

An idea here occurs to me, that the facility of fixation which is the property of the compressed muriatic, oxy-muriatic, and some other gases, may be made of some utility to the arts, since by previously pouring in a little water, or other fluid into the receiver, an acid may be obtained of almost any degree of concentration.

Exp. 17. Having collected about a pint and a half of sulphureous acid gas, I proceeded to condense it in the three cubic inch receiver, but after a very few pumps the forcing piston became immoveable, being completely choked by the operation of the gas. A sufficient quantity however had been compressed to form vapour, and a thick slimy fluid of a dark yellow colour began to trickle down the sides of the receiver, which immediately evaporated with the most suffocating odour upon the removal of the pressure. This experiment corroborates the affirmation of Monge and Clouet, mentioned in Accum's chemistry, vol. I. p. 319. viz, that "by extreme artificial cold, and a strong pressure exerted at the same time, they rendered sulphureous acid gas fluid. From the injury which this gas does to the machine, it will be very difficult to perform any experiments upon its elective attractions with the other gases.

I remain. Sir,

Your obedient humble Servant,


Devonshire Street, Portlaiid Place,
Feb. 15, 1806


  1. [From Nicholson's Journal, vol. 12 (1805), pp. 368-373.]
  2. [Oxigen in the original.]
  3. [From Nicholson’s Journal, vol. 13 (1806), pp. 233-236.]