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Scientific Papers.
The Harvard Classics. 1909–14.

Michael Faraday

The Forces of Matter, Delivered before a Juvenile Auditory at the Royal Institution of Great Britain during the Christmas Holidays of 1859–60

Lecture II.—Gravitation—Cohesion

DO me the favor to pay me as much attention as you did at our last meeting, and I shall not repent of that which I have proposed to undertake. It will be impossible for us to consider the Laws of Nature, and what they effect, unless we now and then give our sole attention, so as to obtain a clear idea upon the subject. Give me now that attention, and then I trust we shall not part without our knowing something about those laws, and the manner in which they act. You recollect, upon the last occasion, I explained that all bodies attracted each other, and that this power we called gravitation. I told you that when we brought these two bodies [two equal-sized ivory balls suspended by threads] near together, they attracted each other, and that we might suppose that the whole power of this attraction was exerted between their respective centres of gravity; and, furthermore, you learned from me that if, instead of a small ball I took a larger one, like that [changing one of the balls for a much larger one], there was much more of this attraction exerted; or, if I made this ball larger and larger, until, if it were possible, it became as large as the Earth itself—or I might take the Earth itself as the large ball—that then the attraction would become so powerful as to cause them to rush together in this manner [dropping the ivory ball]. You sit there upright, and I stand upright here, because we keep our centres of gravity properly balanced with respect to the earth; and I need not tell you that on the other side of this world the people are standing and moving about with their feet toward our feet, in a reversed position as compared with us, and all by means of this power of gravitation to the centre of the earth.

I must not, however, leave the subject of gravitation without telling you something about its laws and regularity; and, first, as regards its power with respect to the distance that bodies are apart. If I take one of these balls and place it within an inch of the other, they attract each other with a certain power. If I hold it at a greater distance off, they attract with less power; and if I hold it at a greater distance still, their attraction is still less. Now this fact is of the greatest consequence; for, knowing this law, philosophers have discovered most wonderful things. You know that there is a planet, Uranus, revolving round the sun with us, but eighteen hundred millions of miles off, and because there is another planet as far off as three thousand millions of miles, this law attraction, or gravitation, still holds good, and philosophers actually discovered this latter planet, Neptune, by reason of the effects of its attraction at this overwhelming distance. Now I want you clearly to understand what this law is. They say (and they are right) that two bodies attract each other inversely as the square of the distance—a sad jumble of words until you understand them; but I think we shall soon comprehend what this law is, and what is the meaning of the “inverse square of the distance.”

I have here (FIG. 11) a lamp, A, shining most intensely upon this disc, B, C, D, and this light acts as a sun by which I can get a shadow from this little screen B F (merely a square piece of card), which, as you know, when I place it close to the large screen, just shadows as much of it as is exactly equal to its own size; but now let me take this card, E, which is equal to the other one in size, and place it midway between the lamp and the screen; now look at the size of the shadow B D—it is four times the original size. Here, then, comes the “inverse square of the distance.” This distance, A E, is one, and that distance, A B is two, but that size E being one, this size B D of shadow is four instead of two, which is the square of the distance, and, if I put the screen at one-third of the distance from the lamp, the shadow on the large screen would be nine times the size. Again, if I hold this screen here, at B F, a certain amount of light falls on it; and if I hold it nearer the lamp at E, more light shines upon it. And you see at once how much—exactly the quantity which I have shut off from the part of this screen, B D, now in shadow; moreover, you see that if I put a single screen here, at G, by the side of the shadow, it can only receive one-fourth of the proportion of light which is obstructed. That, then, is what is meant by the inverse of the square of the distance. This screen E is the brightest because it is the nearest, and there is the whole secret of this curious expression, inversely as the square of the distance. Now if you can not perfectly recollect this when you go home, get a candle and throw a shadow of something—your profile, if you like—on the wall and then recede or advance, and you will find that your shadow is exactly in proportion to the square of the distance you are off the wall; and then, if you consider how much light shines on you at one distance, and how much at another, you get the inverse accordingly. So it is as regards the attraction of these two balls; they attract according to the square of the distance, inversely. I want you to try and remember these words, and then you will be able to go into all the calculations of astronomers as to the planets and other bodies, and tell why they move so fast, and why they go round the sun without falling into it and be prepared to enter upon many other interesting inquiries of the like nature.

Let us now leave this subject which I have written upon the board under the word FORCE—GRAVITATION—and go a step father. All bodies attract each other at sensible distances. I showed you the electric attraction on the last occasion (through I did not call it so); that attracts at a distance; and in order to make our progress a little more gradual, suppose I take a few iron particles [dropping some small fragments of iron on the table]. There! I have already told you that in all cases where bodies fall it is the particles that are attracted. You may consider these, then, as separate particles magnified, so as to be evident to your sight; they are loose from each other—they all gravitate—they all fall to the earth—for the force of gravitation never fails. Now I have here a centre of power which I will not name at present, and when these particles are placed upon it, see what an attraction they have for each other.

Here I have an arch of iron filings (FIG. 12) regularly built up like an iron bridge, because I have put them within a sphere of action which will cause them to attract each other. See! I could let a mouse run through it; and yet, if I try to do the same thing with them here [on the table], they do not attract each other at all. It is that [the magnet] which makes them hold together. Now just as these iron particles hold together in the form of an elliptical bridge, so do the different particles of iron which constitute this nail hold together and make it one. And here is a bar of iron; why, it is only because the different parts of this iron are so wrought as to keep close together by the attraction between the particles that it is held together in one mass. It is kept together, in fact, merely by the attraction of one particle to another, and that is the point I want now to illustrate. If I take a piece of flint, and strike it with a hammer, and break it thus [breaking off a piece of the flint], I have done nothing more than separate the particles which compose these two pieces so far apart that their attraction is too weak to cause them to hold together, and it is only for that reason that there are now two pieces in the place of one. I will show you an experiment to prove that this attraction does still exist in those particles; for here is a piece of glass (for what was true of the flint and the bar of iron is true of the piece of glass, and is true of every other solid—they are all held together in the lump by the attraction between their parts), and I can show you the attraction between its separate particles; for if I take these portions of glass which I have reduced to very fine powder, you see that I can actually build them up into a solid wall by pressure between two flat surfaces. The power which I thus have of building up this wall is due to the attraction of the particles, forming, as it were, the cement which holds them together; and so in this case, where I have taken no very great pains to bring the particles together, you see perhaps a couple of ounces of finely pounded glass standing as an upright wall: is not this attraction most wonderful? That bar of iron one inch square has such power of attraction in its particles—giving to it such strength—that it will hold up twenty tons’ weight before the little set of particles in the small space equal to one division across which it can be pulled apart will separate. In this manner suspension bridges and chains are held together by the attraction of their particles, and I am going to make an experiment which will show how strong is this attraction of the particles. [The lectured here placed his foot on a loop of wire fastened to a support above, and swung with his whole weight resting upon it for some moments.] You see, while hanging here, all my weight is supported by these little particles of the wire, just as in pantomimes they sometimes suspend gentlemen and damsels.

How can we make this attraction of the particles a little more simple? There are many things which, if brought together properly, will show this attraction. Here is a boy’s experiment (and I like a boy’s experiment). Get a tobacco-pipe, fill it with lead, melt it, and then pour it out upon a stone, and thus get a clean piece of lead (this is a better plan than scraping it; scraping alters the condition of the surface of the lead). I have here some pieces of lead which I melted this morning for the sake of making them clean. Now these pieces of lead hang together by the attraction of their particles, and it I press these two separate pieces close together, so as to bring their particles within the sphere of attraction, you will see how soon they become one. I have merely to give them a good squeeze, and draw the upper piece slightly round at the same time, and here they are as one, and all the bending and twisting I can give them will not separate them again; I have joined the lead together, not with solder, but simply by means of the attraction of the particles.

This, however, is not the best way of bringing those particles together; we have many better plans than that; and I will show you one that will do very well for juvenile experiments. There is some alum crystallized very beautifully by nature (for all things are far more beautiful in their natural than their artificial form), and here I have some of the same alum broken into fine powder. In it I have destroyed that force of which I have placed the name of this board—COHESION, or the attraction exerted between the particles of bodies to hold them together. Now I am going to show you that if we take this powdered alum and some hot water, and mix them together, I shall dissolve the alum; all the particles will be separated by the water far more completely than they are here in the powder; but then, being in the water, they will have the opportunity as it cools (for that is the condition which favors their coalescence) of uniting together again and forming one mass ().

Now, having brought the alum into solution, I will pour it into this glass basin, and you will, to-morrow, find that these particles of alum which I have put into the water, and so separated that they are no longer solid, will, as the water cools, come together and cohere, and by to-morrow morning we shall have a great deal of the alum crystallized out—that is to say, come back to the solid form. [The lecturer here poured a little of the hot solution of alum into the glass dish, and when the latter had thus been made warm, the remainder of the solution was added.] I am now doing that which I advise you to do if you use a glass vessel, namely warming it slowly and gradually; and in repeating this experiment, do as I do—pour the liquid out gently, leaving all the dirt behind in the basin; and remember that the more carefully and quietly you make this experiment at home, the better the crystals. To-morrow you will see the particles of alum drawn together; and if I put two pieces of coke in some part of the solution (the coke ought first to be washed very clean, and dried), you will find to-morrow that we shall have a beautiful crystallization over the coke, making it exactly resemble a natural mineral.

Now how curiously our ideas expand by watching these conditions of the attraction of cohesion! how many new phenomena it gives us beyond those of the attraction of gravitation! See how it gives us great strength. The things we deal with in building up the structures on the earth are of strength—we use iron, stone, and other things of great strength; and only think that all those structures you have about you—think of the Great Eastern, if you please, which is of such size and power as to be almost more than man can manage—are the result of this power of cohesion and attraction.

I have here a body in which I believe you will see a change taking place in its condition of cohesion at the moment it is made. It is at first yellow; it then becomes a fine crimson red. Just watch when I pour these two liquids together—both colorless as water. [The lecturer here mixed together solutions of perchloride of mercury and iodide of potassium, when a yellow precipitate of biniodide of mercury fell down, which almost immediately became crimson red.] Now there is a substance which is very beautiful, but see how it is changing color. It was reddish-yellow at first, but it has now become red (). I have previously prepared a little of this red substance, which you see formed in the liquid, and have put some of it upon paper [exhibiting several sheets of paper coated with scarlet biniodide of mercury ()]. There it is—the same substance spread upon paper; and there, too, is the same substance; and here is some more of it [exhibiting a piece of paper as large as the other sheets, but having only very little red color on it, the greater part being yellow]—a little more of it, you will say. Do not be mistaken; there is as much upon the surface of one of these pieces of paper as upon the other. What you see yellow is the same thing as the red body, only the attraction of cohesion is in a certain degree changed, for I will take this red body, and apply heat to it (you may perhaps see a little smoke arise, but that is of no consequence). and if you look at it it will first of all darken—but see how it is becoming yellow. I have now made it all yellow, and, what is more, it will remain so; but if I take any hard substance, and rub the yellow part with it, it will immediately go back again to the red condition [exhibiting the experiment]. There it is. You see the red is not put back, but brought back by the change in the substance. Now [warming it over the spirit lamp] here it is becoming yellow again, and that is all because its attraction of cohesion is changed. And what will you say to me when I tell you that this piece of common charcoal is just the same thing, only differently coalesced, as the diamonds which you wear? (I have put a specimen outside of a piece of straw which was charred in a particular way—it is just like back lead.) Now this charred straw, this charcoal, and these diamonds, are all of them the same substance, changed but in their properties as respects the force of cohesion.

Here is a piece of glass [producing a piece of plate-glass about two inches square]. (I shall want this afterward to look to and examine its internal condition), and here is some of the same sort of glass differing only in its power of cohesion, because while yet melted it had been dropped into cold water [exhibiting a “Prince Rupert’s drop,” () (FIG. 13)], and if I take one of these little tear-like pieces and break off ever so little from the point, the whole will at once burst and fall to pieces. I will now break off a piece of this. [The lecturer nipped off a small piece from the end of one of Rupert’s drops, whereupon the whole immediately fell to pieces.] There! you see the solid glass has suddenly become powder, and more than that, it has knocked a hole in the glass vessel in which it was held. I can show the effect better in this bottle of water, and it is very likely the whole bottle will go. [A 6-OZ. vial was filled with water, and a Rupert’s drop placed in it with the point of the tail just projecting out; upon breaking the tip off, the drop burst, and the shock, being transmitted through the water to the sides of the bottle, shattered the latter to pieces.]

Here is another form of the same kind of experiment. I have here some more glass which has not been annealed [showing some thick glass vessels () (FIG. 14)], and if I take one of these glass vessels and drop a piece of pounded glass into it (or I will take some of these small pieces of rock crystal; they have the advantage of being harder than glass), and so make the least scratch upon the inside, the whole bottle will break to pieces—it can not hold together. [The lecturer here dropped a small fragment of rock crystal into one of these glass vessels, when the bottom immediately came out and feel upon the plate.] There! it goes through, just as it would through a sieve.

Now I have shown you these things for the purpose of bringing your minds to see that bodies are not merely held together by this power of cohesion, but that they are held together in very curious ways. And suppose I take some things that are held together by this force, and examine them more minutely. I will first take a bit of glass, and if I give it a blow with a hammer I shall just break it to pieces. You saw how it was in the case of the flint when I broke the piece off; a piece of a similar kind would come off, just as you would expect; and if I were to break it up still more, it would be, as you have seen, simply a collection of small particles of no definite shape or form. But supposing I take some other thing—this stone, for instance (FIG. 15) [taking a piece of mica ()], and if I hammer this stone I may batter it a great deal before I can break it up. I may even bend it without breaking it—that is to say, I may bend it in one particular direction without breaking it much, although I feel in my hands that I am doing it some injury. But now, if I take it by the edges, I find that it breaks up into leaf after leaf in a most extraordinary manner. Why should it break up like that? Not because all stones do, or all crystals; for there is some salt (FIG. 16)—you know what common salt is (); here is a piece of this salt, which by natural circumstances has had its particles so brought together that they have been allowed free opportunity of combining or coalescing, and you shall see what happens if I take this piece of salt and break it. It does not break as flint did, or as the mica did, but with a clean sharp angle and exact surfaces, beautiful and glittering as diamonds [breaking it by gentle blows with a hammer]; there is a square prism which I may break up into a square cube. You see these fragments are all square; one side may be longer than the other, but they will only split up so as to form square or oblong pieces with cubical sides. Now I go a little farther, and I find another stone (FIG. 17) [Iceland or calc-spar] () which I may break in a similar way, but not with the same result. Here is a piece which I have broken off, and you see there are plain surfaces perfectly regular with respect to each other, but it is not cubical—it is what we call a rhomboid. It still breaks in three directions most beautifully and regularly with polished surfaces, but with sloping sides, not like the salt. Why not? It is very manifest that this is owing to the attraction of the particles one for the other being less in the direction in which they give way than in other directions. I have on the table before me a number of little bits of calcareous spar, and I recommend each of you to take a piece home, and then you can take a knife and try to divide it in the direction of any of the surfaces already existing. You will be able to do it at once; but if you try to cut it across the crystals, you can not; by hammering you may bruise and break it up, but you can only divide it into these beautiful little rhomboids.

Now I want you to understand a little more how this is, and for this purpose I am going to use the electric light again. You see we can not look into the middle of a body this piece of glass. We perceive the outside form and the inside form, and we look through it, but we can not well find out how these forms become so, and I want you, therefore, to take a lesson in the way in which we use a ray of light for the purpose of seeing what is in the interior of bodies. Light is a thing which is, so to say, attracted by every substance that gravitates (and we done not know any thing that does not). All matters affects light more or less by what we may consider as a kind of attraction, and I have arranged (FIG. 18) a very simple experiment upon the floor of the room for the purpose of illustrating this. I have put into that basin a few things which those who are in the body of the theatre will not be able to see, and I am going to make use of this power which matter possesses of attracting a ray of light. If Mr. Anderson pours some water, gently and steadily, into the basin, the water will attract the rays of light downward, and the piece of silver and the sealing-wax will appear to rise up into the sight of those who were before not high enough to see over the side of the basin to its bottom. [Mr. Anderson here poured water into the basin, and upon the lecturer asking whether any body could see the silver and sealing-wax, he was answered by a general affirmative.] Now I suppose that every body can see that they are not at all disturbed, while from the way they appear to have risen up you would imagine the bottom of the basin and the articles in it were two inches thick, although they are only one of our small silver dishes and a piece of sealing-wax which I have put there. The light which now goes to you from that piece of silver was obstructed by the edge of the basin when there was no water there, and you were unable to see anything of it; but when we poured in water the rays were attracted down by it over the edge of the basin, and you were thus enabled to see the articles at the bottom.

I have shown you this experiment first, so that you might understand how glass attracts light, and might then see how other substances like rock-salt and calcareous spar, mica, and other stones, would affect the light; and, if Dr. Tyndall will be good enough to let us use his light again, we will first of all show you how it may be bent by a piece of glass (FIG. 19). [The electric lamp was again lit, and the beam of parallel rays of light which it emitted was bent about and decomposed by means of the prism.] Now, here you see, if I send the light through this piece of plain glass, A, it goes straight through without being bent (unless the glass be held obliquely, and then the phenomenon becomes more complicated); but if I take this piece of glass, B [a prism], you see it will show a very different effect. It no longer goes to that wall, but it is bent to this screen, C, and how much more beautiful it is now [throwing the prismatic spectrum on the screen]. This ray of light is bent out of its course by the attraction of the glass upon it; and you see I can turn and twist the rays to and fro in different parts of the room just as I please. Now it goes there, now here. [The lecturer projected the prismatic spectrum about the theatre.] Here I have the rays once more bent on to the screen, and you see how wonderfully and beautifully that piece of glass not only bends the light by virtue of its attraction, but actually splits it up into different colors. Now I want you to understand that this piece of glass [the prism], being perfectly uniform in its internal structure, tells us about the action of these other bodies which are not uniform—which do not merely cohere, but also have within them, in different parts, different degrees of cohesion, and thus attract and bend the light with varying powers. We will now let the light pass through one or two of these things which I just now showed you broke so curiously: and, first of all, I will take a piece of mica. Here, you see, is our ray of light: we have first to make it what we call polarized; but about that you need not trouble yourselves; it is only to make our illustration more clear. Here, then, we have our polarized ray of light, and I can so adjust it as to make the screen upon which it is shining either light or dark, although I have nothing in the course of this ray of light but what is perfectly transparent [turning the analyzer round]. I will now make it so that it is quite dark, and we will, in the first instance, put a piece of common glass into the polarized ray so as to show you that it does not enable the light to get through. You see the screen remains dark. The glass, then, internally, has no effect upon light. [The glass was removed and a piece of mica introduced.] Now there is the mica which we split up so curiously into leaf after leaf, and see how that enables the light to pass through to the screen, and how, as Dr. Tyndall turns it round in his hand, you have those different colors, pink, and purple, and green, coming and going most beautifully; not that the mica is more transparent than the glass, but because of the different manner in which its particles are arranged by the force of cohesion.

Now we will see how calcareous spar acts upon this light—that stone which split up into rhombs, and of which you are each of you going to take a little piece home. [The mica was removed, and a piece of calc-spar introduced at A.] See how that turns the light round and round, and produces these rings and that black cross (FIG. 20). Look at those colors: are they not most beautiful for you and for me? (for I enjoy things as much as you do). In what a wonderful manner they open out to us internal arrangement of the particles of this calcareous spar by the force of cohesion.

And now I will show you another experiment. Here is that piece of glass which before had no action upon the light. You shall see what it will do when we apply pressure to it. Here, then, we have our ray of polarized light, and I will first of all show you that the glass has no effect upon it in its ordinary state; when I place it in the course of the light, the screen still remains dark. Now Dr. Tyndall will press that bit of glass between three little points, one point against two, so as to bring a strain upon the parts, and you will see what a curious effect that has. [Upon the screen two white dots gradually appeared.] Ah! these points show the position of the strain; in these parts the force of cohesion is being exerted in a different degree to what it is in the other parts, and hence it allows the light to pass through. How beautiful that is! how it makes the light come through some parts and leaves it dark in others, and all because we weaken the force of cohesion between particle and particle. Whether you have this mechanical power of straining, or whether we take other means, we get the same result; and, indeed, I will show you by another experiment that if we heat the glass in one part, it will alter its internal structure and produce a similar effect. Here is a piece of common glass, and if I insert this in the path of the polarized ray, I believe it will do nothing. There is the common glass [introducing it]. No light passes through; the screen remains quite dark; but I am going to warm this glass in the lamp, and you know yourselves that when you pour warm water upon glass you put a strain upon it sufficient to break it sometimes—something like there was in the case of the Prince Rupert’s drops. [The glass was warmed in the spirit lamp, and again placed across the ray of light.] Now you see how beautifully the light goes through those parts which are hot, making dark and light lines just as the crystal did, and all because of the alteration I have effected in its internal condition; for these dark and light parts are a proof of the presence of forces acting and dragging in different directions within the solid mass.