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Darwin and Modern Science (1909)

Edited by A.C. Seward


XXIX. THE EVOLUTION OF MATTER.

By By W.C.D. WHETHAM, M.A., F.R.S.
Trinity College, Cambridge.

I.


he idea of evolution in the organic world, made intelligible by the work of Charles Darwin, has little in common with the recent conception of change in certain types of matter. The discovery that a process of disintegration may take place in some at least of the chemical atoms, previously believed to be indestructible and unalterable, has modified our view of the physical universe, even as Darwin's scheme of the mode of evolution changed the trend of thought concerning the organic world. Both conceptions have in common the idea of change throughout extended realms of space and time, and, therefore, it is perhaps not unfitting that some account of the most recent physical discoveries should be included in the present volume.

The earliest conception of the evolution of matter is found in the speculation of the Greeks. Leucippus and Democritus imagined unchanging eternal atoms, Heracleitus held that all things were in a continual state of flux--Panta rei.

But no one in the Ancient World--no one till quite modern times--could appreciate the strength of the position which the theory of the evolution of matter must carry before it wins the day. Vague speculation, even by the acute minds of philosophers, is of little use in physical science before experimental facts are available. The true problems at issue cannot even be formulated, much less solved, till the humble task of the observer and experimenter has given us a knowledge of the phenomena to be explained.

It was only through the atomic theory, at first apparently diametrically opposed to it, that the conception of evolution in the physical world was to gain an established place. For a century the atomic theory, when put into a modern form by Dalton, led farther and farther away from the idea of change in matter. The chemical elements seemed quite unalterable, and the atoms, of which each element in modern view is composed, bore to Clerk Maxwell, writing about 1870, "the stamp of manufactured articles" exactly similar in kind, unchanging, eternal.

Nevertheless throughout these years, on the whole so unfavourable to its existence, there persisted the idea of a common origin of the distinct kinds of matter known to chemists. Indeed, this idea of unity in substance in nature seems to accord with some innate desire or intimate structure of the human mind. As Mr Arthur Balfour well puts it, "There is no a priori reason that I know of for expecting that the material world should be a modification of a single medium, rather than a composite structure built out of sixty or seventy elementary substances, eternal and eternally different. Why then should we feel content with the first hypothesis and not with the second? Yet so it is. Men of science have always been restive under the multiplication of entities. They have eagerly watched for any sign that the different chemical elements own a common origin, and are all compounded out of some primordial substance. Nor, for my part, do I think that such instincts should be ignored...that they exist is certain; that they modify the indifferent impartiality of pure empiricism can hardly be denied." ("Report of the 74th Meeting of the British Association" (Presidential Address, Cambridge 1904), page 9, London, 1905.)

When Dalton's atomic theory had been in existence some half century, it was noted that certain numerical relations held good between the atomic weights of elements chemically similar to one another. Thus the weight (88) of an atom of strontium compared with that of hydrogen as unity, is about the mean of those of calcium (40) and barium (137). Such relations, in this and other chemical groups, were illustrated by Beguyer de Chancourtois in 1862 by the construction of a spiral diagram in which the atomic weights are placed in order round a cylinder and elements chemically similar are found to fall on vertical lines.

Newlands seems to have been the first to see the significance of such a diagram. In his "law of octaves," formulated in 1864, he advanced the hypothesis that, if arranged in order of rising atomic weight, the elements fell into groups, so that each eighth element was chemically similar. Stated thus, the law was too definite; no room was left for newly- discovered elements, and some dissimilar elements were perforce grouped together.

But in 1869 Mendeleeff developed Newland's hypothesis in a form that attracted at once general attention. Placing the elements in order of rising atomic weight, but leaving a gap where necessary to bring similar elements into vertical columns, he obtained a periodic table with natural vacancies to be filled as new elements were discovered, and with a certain amount of flexibility at the ends of the horizontal lines. From the position of the vacancies, the general chemical and physical properties of undiscovered elements could be predicted, and the success of such predictions gave a striking proof of the usefulness of Mendeleeff's generalisation.

When the chemical and physical properties of the elements were known to be periodic functions of their atomic weights, the idea of a common origin and common substance became much more credible. Differences in atomic weight and differences in properties alike might reasonably be explained by the differences in the amount of the primordial substance present in the various atoms; an atom of oxygen being supposed to be composed of sixteen times as much stuff as the atom of hydrogen, but to be made of the same ultimate material. Speculations about the mode of origin of the elements now began to appear, and put on a certain air of reality. Of these speculations perhaps the most detailed was that of Crookes, who imagined an initial chaos of a primordial medium he named protyle, and a process of periodic change in which the chemical elements successively were precipitated.

From another side too, suggestions were put forward by Sir Norman Lockyer and others that the differences in spectra observed in different classes of stars, and produced by different conditions in the laboratory, were to be explained by changes in the structure of the vibrating atoms.

The next step in advance gave a theoretical basis for the idea of a common structure of matter, and was taken in an unexpected direction. Clerk Maxwell's electromagnetic theory of light, accepted in England, was driven home to continental minds by the confirmatory experiments of Hertz, who in 1888 detected and measured the electromagnetic waves that Maxwell had described twenty years earlier. But, if light be an electromagnetic phenomenon, the light waves radiated by hot bodies must take their origin in the vibrations of electric systems. Hence within the atoms must exist electric charges capable of vibration. On these lines Lorentz and Larmor have developed an electronic theory of matter, which is imagined in its essence to be a conglomerate of electric charges, with electro-magnetic inertia to explain mechanical inertia. (Larmor, "Aether and Matter", Cambridge, 1900.) The movement of electric charges would be affected by a magnetic field, and hence the discovery by Zeeman that the spectral lines of sodium were doubled by a strong magnetic force gave confirmatory evidence to the theory of electrons.

Then came J.J. Thomson's great discovery of minute particles, much smaller than any chemical atom, forming a common constituent of many different kinds of matter. (Thomson, "Conduction of Electricity through Gases" (2nd edition), Cambridge, 1906.) If an electric discharge be passed between metallic terminals through a glass vessel containing air at very low pressure, it is found that rectilinear rays, known as cathode rays, proceed from the surface of the cathode or negative terminal. Where these rays strike solid objects, they give rise to the Rontgen rays now so well known; but it is with the cathode rays themselves that we are concerned. When they strike an insulated conductor, they impart to it a negative charge, and Thomson found that they were deflected from their path both by magnetic and electric forces in the direction in which negatively electrified particles would be deflected. Cathode rays then were accepted as flights of negatively charged particles, moving with high velocities. The electric and magnetic deflections give two independent measurements which may be made on a cathode ray, and both the deflections involve theoretically three unknown quantities, the mass of the particles, their electric charge and their velocity. There is strong cumulative evidence that all such particles possess the same charge, which is identical with that associated with a univalent atom in electrolytic liquids. The number of unknown quantities was thus reduced to two--the mass and the velocity. The measurement of the magnetic and electric deflections gave two independent relations between the unknowns, which could therefore be determined. The velocities of the cathode ray particles were found to vary round a value about one-tenth that of light, but the mass was found always to be the same within the limits of error, whatever the nature of the terminals, of the residual gas in the vessel, and of the conditions of the experiment. The mass of a cathode ray particle, or corpuscle, as Thomson, adopting Newton's name, called it, is about the eight-hundredth part of the mass of a hydrogen atom.

These corpuscles, found in so many different kinds of substance, are inevitably regarded as a common constituent of matter. They are associated each with a unit of negative electricity. Now electricity in motion possesses electromagnetic energy, and produces effects like those of mechanical inertia. In other words, an electric charge possesses mass, and there is evidence to show that the effective mass of a corpuscle increases as its velocity approaches that of light in the way it would do if all its mass were electromagnetic. We are led therefore to regard the corpuscle from one aspect as a disembodied charge of electricity, and to identify it with the electron of Lorentz and Larmor.

Thus, on this theory, matter and electricity are identified; and a great simplification of our conception of the physical structure of Nature is reached. Moreover, from our present point of view, a common basis for matter suggests or implies a common origin, and a process of development possibly intelligible to our minds. The idea of the evolution of matter becomes much more probable.

The question of the nature and physical meaning of a corpuscle or electron remains for consideration. On the hypothesis of a universal luminiferous aether, Larmor has suggested a centre of aethereal strain "a place where the continuity of the medium has been broken and cemented together again (to use a crude but effective image) without accurately fitting the parts, so that there is a residual strain all round the place." (Larmor, loc. cit.) Thus he explains in quasi-mechanical terms the properties of an electron. But whether we remain content for the time with our identification of matter and electricity, or attempt to express both of them in terms of hypothetical aether, we have made a great step in advance on the view that matter is made up of chemical atoms fundamentally distinct and eternally isolated.

Such was the position when the phenomena of radio-activity threw a new light on the problem, and, for the first time in the history of science, gave definite experimental evidence of the transmutation of matter from one chemical element to another.

In 1896 H. Becquerel discovered that compounds of the metal uranium continually emitted rays capable of penetrating opaque screens and affecting photographic plates. Like cathode and Rontgen rays, the rays from uranium make the air through which they pass a conductor of electricity, and this property gives the most convenient method of detecting the rays and of measuring their intensity. An electroscope may be made of a strip of gold-leaf attached to an insulated brass plate and confined in a brass vessel with glass windows. When the gold-leaf is electrified, it is repelled from the similarly electrified brass plate, and the angle at which it stands out measures the electrification. Such a system, if well insulated, holds its charge for hours, the leakage of electricity through the air being very slow. But, if radio-active radiation reach the air within, the gold-leaf falls, and the rate of its fall, as watched through a microscope with a scale in the eye-piece, measures the intensity of the radiation. With some form of this simple instrument, or with the more complicated quadrant electrometer, most radio- active measurements have been made.

It was soon discovered that the activity of uranium compounds was proportional to the amount of uranium present in them. Thus radio-activity is an atomic property dependent on the amount of an element and independent of its state of chemical combination.

In a search for radio-activity in different minerals, M. and Mme Curie found a greater effect in pitch-blende than its contents of uranium warranted, and, led by the radio-active property alone, they succeeded, by a long series of chemical separations, in isolating compounds of a new and intensely radio-active substance which they named radium.

Radium resembles barium in its chemical properties, and is precipitated with barium in the ordinary course of chemical analysis. It is separated by a prolonged course of successive crystallisation, the chloride of radium being less soluble than that of barium, and therefore sooner separated from an evaporating solution. When isolated, radium chloride has a composition, which, on the assumption that one atom of metal combines with two of chlorine as in barium chloride, indicates that the relative weight of the atom of radium is about 225. As thus prepared, radium is a well-marked chemical element, forming a series of compounds analogous to those of barium and showing a characteristic line spectrum. But, unlike most other chemical elements, it is intensely radio-active, and produces effects some two million times greater than those of uranium.

In 1899 E. Rutherford, then of Montreal, discovered that the radiation from uranium, thorium and radium was complex. (Rutherford, "Radio-activity" (2nd edition), Cambridge, 1905.) Three types of rays were soon distinguished. The first, named by Rutherford alpha-rays, are absorbed by thin metal foil or a few centimetres of air. When examined by measurements of the deflections caused by magnetic and electric fields, the alpha-rays are found to behave as would positively electrified particles of the magnitude of helium atoms possessing a double ionic charge and travelling with a velocity about one-tenth that of light. The second or beta type of radiation is much more penetrating. It will pass through a considerable thickness of metallic foil, or many centimetres of air, and still affect photographic plates or discharge electroscopes. Magnetic and electric forces deflect beta-rays much more than alpha-rays, indicating that, although the speed is greater, approaching in some cases within five per cent. that of light, the mass is very much less. The beta-rays must be streams of particles, identical with those of cathode rays, possessing the minute mass of J.J. Thomson's corpuscle, some eight-hundredth part of that of a hydrogen atom. A third or gamma type of radiation was also detected. More penetrating even than beta-rays, the gamma-rays have never been deflected by any magnetic or electric force yet applied. Like Rontgen rays, it is probable that gamma-rays are wave-pulses in the luminiferous aether, though the possibility of explaining them as flights of non- electrified particles is before the minds of some physicists.

Still another kind of radiation has been discovered more recently by Thomson, who has found that in high vacua, rays become apparent which are absorbed at once by air at any ordinary pressure.

The emission of all these different types of radiation involves a continual drain of energy from the radio-active body. When M. and Mme Curie had prepared as much as a gramme of radium chloride, the energy of the radiation became apparent as an evolution of heat. The radium salt itself, and the case containing it, absorbed the major part of the radiation, and were thus maintained at a temperature measurably higher than that of the surroundings. The rate of thermal evolution was such that it appeared that one gramme of pure radium must emit about 100 gramme-calories of heat in an hour. This observation, naturally as it follows from the phenomena previously discovered, first called attention to the question of the source of the energy which maintains indefinitely and without apparent diminution the wonderful stream of radiation proceeding from a radio-active substance. In the solution of this problem lies the point of the present essay.

In order to appreciate the evidence which bears on the question we must now describe two other series of phenomena.

It is a remarkable fact that the intensity of the radiation from a radio- active body is independent of the external conditions of temperature, pressure, etc. which modify so profoundly almost all other physical and chemical processes. Exposure to the extreme cold of liquid air, or to the great heat of a furnace, leaves the radio-activity of a substance unchanged, apparent exceptions to this statement having been traced to secondary causes.

Then, it is found that radio-activity is always accompanied by some chemical change; a new substance always appears as the parent substance emits these radiations. Thus by chemical reactions it is possible to separate from uranium and thorium minute quantities of radio-active materials to which the names of uranium-X and thorium-X have been given. These bodies behave differently from their parents uranium and thorium, and show all the signs of distinct chemical individuality. They are strongly radio-active, while, after the separation, the parents uranium and thorium are found to have lost some of their radio-activity. If the X-substances be kept, their radio-activity decays, while that of the uranium or thorium from which they were obtained gradually rises to the initial value it had before the separation. At any moment, the sum of the radio-activity is constant, the activity lost by the product being equal to that gained by the parent substance. These phenomena are explained if we suppose that the X-product is slowly produced in the substance of the parent, and decays at a constant rate. Uranium, as usually seen, contains a certain amount of uranium-X, and its radio-activity consists of two parts—that of the uranium itself, and that of the X product. When the latter is separated by means of its chemical reactions, its radio-activity is separated also, and the rates of decay and recovery may be examined.

Radium and thorium, but not uranium, give rise to radio-active gases which have been called emanations. Rutherford has shown that their radio- activity, like that of the X products, suffers decay, while the walls of the vessel in which the emanation is confined, become themselves radio- active. If washed with certain acids, however, the walls lose their activity, which is transferred to the acid, and can be deposited by evaporation from it on to a solid surface. Here again it is clear that the emanation gives rise to a radio-active substance which clings to the walls of the vessel, and is soluble in certain liquids, but not in others.

We shall return to this point, and trace farther the history of the radio- active matter. At present we wish to emphasise the fact that, as in other cases, the radio-activity of the emanation is accompanied by the appearance of a new kind of substance with distinct chemical properties.

We are now in a position to consider as a whole the evidence on the question of the source of radio-active energy.

(1) Radio-activity is accompanied by the appearance of new chemical substances. The energy liberated is therefore probably due to the associated chemical change. (2) The activity of a series of compounds is found to accompany the presence of a radio-active element, the activity of each compound depends only on the contents of the element, and is independent of the nature of its combination. Thus radio-activity is a property of the element, and is not affected by its state of isolation or chemical combination. (3) The radio-activity of a simple transient product decays in a geometrical progression, the loss per second being proportional to the mass of substance still left at the moment, and independent of its state of concentration or dilution. This type of reaction is well known in chemistry to mark a mono-molecular change, where each molecule is dissociated or altered in structure independently. If two or more molecules were concerned simultaneously, the rate of reaction would depend on the nearness of the molecules to each other, that is, to the concentration of the material. (4) The amount of energy liberated by the change of a given mass of material far transcends the amount set free by any known ordinary chemical action. The activity of radium decays so slowly that it would not sink to half its initial value in less than some two thousand years, and yet one gramme of radium emits about 100 calories of heat during each hour of its existence.

The energy of radio-activity is due to chemical change, but clearly to no chemical change hitherto familiar to science. It is an atomic property, characteristic of a given element, and the atoms undergo the change individually, not by means of interaction among each other. The conclusion is irresistible that we are dealing with a fundamental change in the structure of the individual atoms, which, one by one, are dissociating into simpler parts. We are watching the disintegration of the "atoms" of the chemist, hitherto believed indestructible and eternal, and measuring the liberation of some of the long-suspected store of internal atomic energy. We have stumbled on the transmutation dreamed by the alchemist, and discovered the process of a veritable evolution of matter.

The transmutation theory of radio-activity was formulated by Rutherford (Rutherford, "Radio-activity" (2nd edition), Cambridge, 1905, page 307.) and Soddy in 1903. By its light, all recent work on the subject has been guided; it has stood the supreme test of a hypothesis, and shown power to suggest new investigations and to co-ordinate and explain them, when carried out. We have summarised the evidence which led to the conception of the theory; we have now to consider the progress which has been made in tracing the successive disintegration of radio-active atoms.

Soon after the statement of the transmutation theory, a striking verification of one of its consequences appeared. The measurement of the magnetic and electric deflection of the alpha-rays suggested to Rutherford the idea that the stream of projectiles of which they consisted was a flight of helium atoms. Ramsay and Soddy, confining a minute bubble of radium emanation in a fine glass tube, were able to watch the development of the helium spectrum as, day by day, the emanation decayed. By isolating a very narrow pencil of alpha-rays, and watching through a microscope their impact on a fluorescent screen, Rutherford has lately counted the individual alpha-projectiles, and confirmed his original conclusion that their mass corresponded to that of helium atoms and their charge to double that on a univalent atom. ("Proc. Roy. Soc." A, page 141, 1908.) Still more recently, he has collected the alpha-particles shot through an extremely thin wall of glass, and demonstrated by direct spectroscopic evidence the presence of helium. ("Phil. Mag." February 1909.)

But the most thorough investigation of a radio-active pedigree is found in Rutherford's classical researches on the successive disintegration products of radium, in order to follow the evidence on which his results are founded, we must describe more fully the process of decay of the activity of a simple radio-active substance. The decay of activity of the body known as uranium-X is shown in a falling curve (Fig. 1.). It will be seen that, in each successive 22 days, the activity falls to half the value it possessed at the beginning.

This change in a geometrical progression is characteristic of simple radio- active processes, and can be expressed mathematically by a simple exponential formula.

As we have said above, solid bodies exposed to the emanations of radium or thorium become coated with a radio-active deposit. The rate of decay of this activity depends on the time of exposure to the emanation, and does not always show the usual simple type of curve. Thus the activity of a rod exposed to radium emanation for 1 minute decays in accordance with a curve (Fig. 2) which represents the activity as measured by the alpha-rays. If the electroscope be screened from the alpha-rays, it is found that the activity of the rod in beta- an gamma-rays increases for some 35 minutes and then diminishes (Fig. 3.).

These complicated relations have been explained satisfactorily and completely by Rutherford on the hypothesis of successive changes of the radio-active matter into one new body after another. (Rutherford, "Radio- activity" (2nd edition), Cambridge, 1905, page 379.) The experimental curve represents the resultant activity of all the matter present at a given moment, and the process of disentangling the component effects consists in finding a number of curves, which express the rise and fall of activity of each kind of matter as it is produced and decays, and, fitted together, give the curve of the experiments.

Other methods of investigation also are open. They have enabled Rutherford to complete the life-history of radium and its products, and to clear up doubtful points left by the analysis of the curves. By the removal of the emanation, the activity of radium itself has been shown to consist solely of alpha-rays. This removal can be effected by passing air through the solution of a radium salt. The emanation comes away, and the activity of the deposit which it leaves behind decays rapidly to a small fraction of its initial value. Again, some of the active deposits of the emanation are more volatile than others, and can be separated from them by the agency of heat.

From such evidence Rutherford has traced a long series of disintegration products of radium, all but the first of which exist in much too minute quantities to be detected otherwise than by their radio-activities. Moreover, two of these products are not themselves appreciably radio- active, though they are born from radio-active parents, and give rise to a series of radio-active descendants. Their presence is inferred from such evidence as the rise of beta and gamma radio-activity in the solid newly deposited by the emanation; this rise measuring the growth of the first radio-active offspring of one of the non-active bodies. Some of the radium products give out alpha-rays only, one beta- and gamma-rays, while one yields all three types of radiation. The pedigree of the radium family may be expressed in the following table, the time noted in the second column being the time required for a given quantity to be half transformed into its next derivative. Time of half Radio- Properties decay activity Radium About 2600 years alpha rays Element chemically analogous to barium. > Emanation 3.8 days alpha rays Chemically inert gas; condenses at -150 deg C. > Radium-A 3 minutes alpha rays Behaves as a solid deposited on surfaces; concentrated on a negative electrode. > Radium-B 21 minutes no rays Soluble in strong acids; volatile at a white heat; more volatile than A or C. > Radium-C 28 minutes alpha, beta, Soluble in strong acids; less gamma rays volatile than B. > Radium-D about 40 years no rays Soluble in strong acids; volatile below 1000 deg C. > Radium-E 6 days beta, gamma Non-volatile at 1000 deg C. rays > Radium-F 143 days alpha rays Volatile at 1000 deg C. Deposited from solution on a bismuth plate.

Of these products, A, B, and C constitute that part of the active deposit of the emanation which suffers rapid decay and nearly disappears in a few hours. Radium-D, continually producing its short-lived descendants E and F, remains for years on surfaces once exposed to the emanation, and makes delicate radio-active researches impossible in laboratories which have been contaminated by an escape of radium emanation.

A somewhat similar pedigree has been made out in the case of thorium. Here thorium-X is interposed between thorium and its short-lived emanation, which decays to half its initial quantity in 54 seconds. Two active deposits, thorium A and B, arise successively from the emanation. In uranium, we have the one obvious derivative uranium-X, and the question remains whether this one descent can be connected with any other individual or family. Uranium is long-lived, and emits only alpha-rays. Uranium-X decays to half value in 22 days, giving out beta- and gamma-rays. Since our evidence goes to show that radio-activity is generally accompanied by the production of new elements, it is natural to search for the substance of uranium-X in other forms, and perhaps under other names, rather than to surrender immediately our belief in the conservation of matter.

With this idea in mind we see at once the significance of the constitution of uranium minerals. Formed in the remote antiquity of past geological ages, these minerals must become store-houses of all the products of uranium except those which may have escaped as gases or possibly liquids. Even gases may be expected to some extent to be retained by occlusion. Among the contents of uranium minerals, then, we may look for the descendants of the parent uranium. If the descendants are permanent or more long-lived than uranium, they will accumulate continually. If they are short-lived, they will accumulate at a steady rate till enough is formed for the quantity disintegrating to be equal to the quantity developed. A state of mobile equilibrium will then be reached, and the amount of the product will remain constant. This constant amount of substance will depend only on the amount of uranium which is its source, and, for different minerals, if all the product is retained, the quantity of the product will be proportional to the quantity of uranium. In a series of analyses of uranium minerals, therefore, we ought to be able to pick out its more short-lived descendants by seeking for instances of such proportionality.

Now radium itself is a constituent of uranium minerals, and two series of experiments by R.J. Strutt and B.B. Boltwood have shown that the content of radium, as measured by the radio-activity of the emanation, is directly proportional to the content of uranium. (Strutt, "Proc. Roy. Soc." A, February 1905; Boltwood, "Phil. Mag." April, 1905.) In Boltwood's investigation, some twenty minerals, with amounts of uranium varying from that in a specimen of uraninite with 74.65 per cent., to that in a monazite with 0.30 per cent., gave a ratio of uranium to radium, constant within about one part in ten.

The conclusion is irresistible that radium is a descendant of uranium, though whether uranium is its parent or a more remote ancestor requires further investigation by the radio-active genealogist. On the hypothesis of direct parentage, it is easy to calculate that the amount of radium produced in a month by a kilogramme of a uranium salt would be enough to be detected easily by the radio-activity of its emanation. The investigation has been attempted by several observers, and the results, especially those of a careful experiment of Boltwood, show that from purified uranium salts the growth of radium, if appreciable at all, is much less than would be found if the radium was the first product of change of the uranium. It is necessary, therefore, to look for one or more intermediate substances.

While working in 1899 with the uranium residues used by M. and Mme Curie for the preparation of radium, Debierne discovered and partially separated another radio-active element which he called actinium. It gives rise to an intermediate product actinium-X, which yields an emanation with the short half-life of 3.9 seconds. The emanation deposits two successive disintegration products actinium-A and actinium-B.

Evidence gradually accumulated that the amounts of actinium in radio-active minerals were, roughly at any rate, proportional to the amounts of uranium. This result pointed to a lineal connection between them, and led Boltwood to undertake a direct attack on the problem. Separating a quantity of actinium from a kilogramme of ore, Boltwood observed a growth of 8.5 x (10 to the power -9) gramme of radium in 193 days, agreeing with that indicated by theory within the limits of experimental error. ("American Journal of Science", December, 1906.) We may therefore insert provisionally actinium and its series of derivatives between uranium and radium in the radio- active pedigree.

Turning to the other end of the radium series we are led to ask what becomes of radium-F when in turn it disintegrates? What is the final non- active product of the series of changes we have traced from uranium through actinium and radium?

One such product has been indicated above. The alpha-ray particles appear to possess the mass of helium atoms, and the growth of helium has been detected by its spectrum in a tube of radium emanation. Moreover, helium is found occluded in most if not all radio-active minerals in amount which approaches, but never exceeds, the quantity suggested by theory. We may safely regard such helium as formed by the accumulation of alpha-ray particles given out by successive radio-active changes.

In considering the nature of the residue left after the expulsion of the five alpha-particles, and the consequent passage of radium to radium-F we are faced by the fact that lead is a general constituent of uranium minerals. Five alpha-particles, each of atomic weight 4, taken from the atomic weight (about 225) of radium gives 205--a number agreeing fairly well with the 207 of lead. Since lead is more permanent than uranium, it must steadily accumulate, no radio-active equilibrium will be reached, and the amount of lead will depend on the age of the mineral as well as on the quantity of uranium present in it. In primary minerals from the same locality, Boltwood has shown that the contents of lead are proportional to the amounts of uranium, while, accepting this theory, the age of minerals with a given content of uranium may be calculated from the amount of lead they contain. The results vary from 400 to 2000 million years. ("American Journal of Science", October, 1905, and February, 1907.)

We can now exhibit in tabular form the amazing pedigree of radio-active change shown by this one family of elements. An immediate descent is indicated by >, while one which may either be immediate or involve an intermediate step is shown by .... No place is found in this pedigree for thorium and its derivatives. They seem to form a separate and independent radio-active family.

Atomic Weight Time of half Radio-Activity decay Uranium 238.5 alpha > Uranium-X ? 22 days beta, gamma ... Actinium ? ? no rays > Actinium-X ? 10.2 days alpha (beta, gamma) > Actinium Emanation ? 3.9 seconds alpha > Actinium-A ? 35.7 minutes no rays > Actinium-B ? 2.15 minutes alpha, beta, gamma ... Radium 225 about 2600 years alpha > Radium Emanation ? 3.8 days alpha > Radium-A ? 3 minutes alpha > Radium-B ? 21 minutes no rays > Radium-C ? 28 minutes alpha, beta, gamma > Radium-D ? about 40 years no rays > Radium-E ? 6 days beta (gamma) > Radium-F ? 143 days alpha ... Lead 207 ? no rays

As soon as the transmutation theory of radio-activity was accepted, it became natural to speculate about the intimate structure of the radio- active atoms, and the mode in which they broke up with the liberation of some of their store of internal energy. How could we imagine an atomic structure which would persist unchanged for long periods of time, and yet eventually spontaneously explode, as here an atom and there an atom reached a condition of instability?

The atomic theory of corpuscles or electrons fortunately was ready to be applied to this new problem. Of the resulting speculations the most detailed and suggestive is that of J.J. Thomson. ("Phil. Mag." March, 1904.) Thomson regards the atom as composed of a number of mutually repelling negative corpuscles or electrons held together by some central attractive force which he represents by supposing them immersed in a uniform sphere of positive electricity. Under the action of the two forces, the electrons space themselves in symmetrical patterns, which depend on the number of electrons. Three place themselves at the corner of an equilateral triangle, four at those of a square, and five form a pentagon. With six, however, the single ring becomes unstable, one corpuscle moves to the middle and five lie round it. But if we imagine the system rapidly to rotate, the centrifugal force would enable the six corpuscles to remain in a single ring. Thus internal kinetic energy would maintain a configuration which would become unstable as the energy drained away. Now in a system of electrons, electromagnetic radiation would result in a loss of energy, and at one point of instability we might well have a sudden spontaneous redistribution of the constituents, taking place with an explosive violence, and accompanied by the ejection of a corpuscle as a beta-ray, or of a large fragment of the atom as an alpha-ray.

The discovery of the new property of radio-activity in a small number of chemical elements led physicists to ask whether the property might not be found in other elements, though in a much less striking form. Are ordinary materials slightly radio-active? Does the feeble electric conductivity always observed in the air contained within the walls of an electroscope depend on ionizing radiations from the material of the walls themselves? The question is very difficult, owing to the wide distribution of slight traces of radium. Contact with radium emanation results in a deposit of the fatal radium-D, which in 40 years is but half removed. Is the "natural" leak of a brass electroscope due to an intrinsic radio-activity of brass, or to traces of a radio-active impurity on its surface? Long and laborious researches have succeeded in establishing the existence of slight intrinsic radio-activity in a few metals such as potassium, and have left the wider problem still unsolved.

It should be noted, however, that, even if ordinary elements are not radio- active, they may still be undergoing spontaneous disintegration. The detection of ray-less changes by Rutherford, when those changes are interposed between two radio-active transformations which can be followed, show that spontaneous transmutation is possible without measureable radio- activity. And, indeed, any theory of disintegration, such as Thomson's corpuscular hypothesis, would suggest that atomic rearrangements are of much more general occurrence than would be apparent to one who could observe them only by the effect of the projectiles, which, in special cases, owing to some peculiarity of atomic configuration, happened to be shot out with the enormous velocity needed to ionize the surrounding gas. No evidence for such ray-less changes in ordinary elements is yet known, perhaps none may ever be obtained; but the possibility should not be forgotten.

In the strict sense of the word, the process of atomic disintegration revealed to us by the new science of radio-activity can hardly be called evolution. In each case radio-active change involves the breaking up of a heavier, more complex atom into lighter and simpler fragments. Are we to regard this process as characteristic of the tendencies in accord with which the universe has reached its present state, and is passing to its unknown future? Or have we chanced upon an eddy in a backwater, opposed to the main stream of advance? In the chaos from which the present universe developed, was matter composed of large highly complex atoms, which have formed the simpler elements by radio-active or ray-less disintegration? Or did the primaeval substance consist of isolated electrons, which have slowly come together to form the elements, and yet have left here and there an anomaly such as that illustrated by the unstable family of uranium and radium, or by some such course are returning to their state of primaeval simplicity?



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