Faraday as a Discoverer by John Tyndall - HTML preview

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Chapter 11

Discovery of diamagnetism--researches on magne-crystallic action.

Faraday's next great step in discovery was announced in a memoir on the 'Magnetic Condition of all matter,' communicated to the Royal Society on December 18, 1845. One great source of his success was the employment of extraordinary power. As already stated, he never accepted a negative answer to an experiment until he had brought to bear upon it all the force at his command. He had over and over again tried steel magnets and ordinary electro-magnets on various substances, but without detecting anything different from the ordinary attraction exhibited by a few of them. Stronger coercion, however, developed a new action. Before the pole of an electro-magnet, he suspended a fragment of his famous heavy glass; and observed that when the magnet was powerfully excited the glass fairly retreated from the pole. It was a clear case of magnetic repulsion. He then suspended a bar of the glass between two poles; the bar retreated when the poles were excited, and set its length equatorially or at right angles to the line joining them. When an ordinary magnetic body was similarly suspended, it always set axially, that is, from pole to pole.

Faraday called those bodies which were repelled by the poles of a magnet, diamagnetic bodies; using this term in a sense different from that in which he employed it in his memoir on the magnetization of light. The term magnetic he reserved for bodies which exhibited the ordinary attraction. He afterwards employed the term magnetic to cover the whole phenomena of attraction and repulsion, and used the word paramagnetic to designate such magnetic action as is exhibited by iron.

Isolated observations by Brugmanns, Becquerel, Le Baillif, Saigy, and Seebeck had indicated the existence of a repulsive force exercised by the magnet on two or three substances; but these observations, which were unknown to Faraday, had been permitted to remain without extension or examination. Having laid hold of the fact of repulsion, Faraday immediately expanded and multiplied it. He subjected bodies of the most varied qualities to the action of his magnet:--mineral salts, acids, alkalis, ethers, alcohols, aqueous solutions, glass, phosphorus, resins, oils, essences, vegetable and animal tissues, and found them all amenable to magnetic influence. No known solid or liquid proved insensible to the magnetic power when developed in sufficient strength. All the tissues of the human body, the blood--though it contains iron-- included, were proved to be diamagnetic. So that if you could suspend a man between the poles of a magnet, his extremities would retreat from the poles until his length became equatorial.

Soon after he had commenced his researches on diamagnetism, Faraday noticed a remarkable phenomenon which first crossed my own path in the following way: In the year 1849, while working in the cabinet of my friend, Professor Knoblauch, of Marburg, I suspended a small copper coin between the poles of an electro-magnet. On exciting the magnet, the coin moved towards the poles and then suddenly stopped, as if it had struck against a cushion. On breaking the circuit, the coin was repelled, the revulsion being so violent as to cause it to spin several times round its axis of suspension. A Silber-groschen similarly suspended exhibited the same deportment. For a moment I thought this a new discovery; but on looking over the literature of the subject, it appeared that Faraday had observed, multiplied, and explained the same effect during his researches on diamagnetism. His explanation was based upon his own great discovery of magneto- electric currents. The effect is a most singular one. A weight of several pounds of copper may be set spinning between the electro-magnetic poles; the excitement of the magnet instantly stops the rotation. Though nothing is apparent to the eye, the copper, if moved in the excited magnetic field, appears to move through a viscous fluid; while, when a flat piece of the metal is caused to pass to and fro like a saw between the poles, the sawing of the magnetic field resembles the cutting through of cheese or butter.[1] This virtual friction of the magnetic field is so strong, that copper, by its rapid rotation between the poles, might probably be fused. We may easily dismiss this experiment by saying that the heat is due to the electric currents excited in the copper. But so long as we are unable to reply to the question, 'What is an electric current?' the explanation is only provisional. For my own part, I look with profound interest and hope on the strange action here referred to.

Faraday's thoughts ran intuitively into experimental combinations, so that subjects whose capacity for experimental treatment would, to ordinary minds, seem to be exhausted in a moment, were shown by him to be all but inexhaustible. He has now an object in view, the first step towards which is the proof that the principle of Archimedes is true of magnetism. He forms magnetic solutions of various degrees of strength, places them between the poles of his magnet, and suspends in the solutions various magnetic bodies. He proves that when the solution is stronger than the body plunged in it, the body, though magnetic, is repelled; and when an elongated piece of it is surrounded by the solution, it sets, like a diamagnetic body, equatorially between the excited poles. The same body when suspended in a solution of weaker magnetic power than itself, is attracted as a whole, while an elongated portion of it sets axially.

And now theoretic questions rush in upon him. Is this new force a true repulsion, or is it merely a differential attraction? Might not the apparent repulsion of diamagnetic bodies be really due to the greater attraction of the medium by which they are surrounded? He tries the rarefaction of air, but finds the effect insensible. He is averse to ascribing a capacity of attraction to space, or to any hypothetical medium supposed to fill space. He therefore inclines, but still with caution, to the opinion that the action of a magnet upon bismuth is a true and absolute repulsion, and not merely the result of differential attraction. And then he clearly states a theoretic view sufficient to account for the phenomena. 'Theoretically,' he says, 'an explanation of the movements of the diamagnetic bodies, and all the dynamic phenomena consequent upon the action of magnets upon them, might be offered in the supposition that magnetic induction caused in them a contrary state to that which it produced in ordinary matter.' That is to say, while in ordinary magnetic influence the exciting pole excites adjacent to itself the contrary magnetism, in diamagnetic bodies the adjacent magnetism is the same as that of the exciting pole. This theory of reversed polarity, however, does not appear to have ever laid deep hold of Faraday's mind; and his own experiments failed to give any evidence of its truth. He therefore subsequently abandoned it, and maintained the non-polarity of the diamagnetic force.

He then entered a new, though related field of inquiry. Having dealt with the metals and their compounds, and having classified all of them that came within the range of his observation under the two heads magnetic and diamagnetic, he began the investigation of the phenomena presented by crystals when subjected to magnetic power. This action of crystals had been in part theoretically predicted by Poisson,[2] and actually discovered by Plucker, whose beautiful results, at the period which we have now reached, profoundly interested all scientific men. Faraday had been frequently puzzled by the deportment of bismuth, a highly crystalline metal. Sometimes elongated masses of the substance refused to set equatorially, sometimes they set persistently oblique, and sometimes even, like a magnetic body, from pole to pole.

'The effect,' he says, 'occurs at a single pole; and it is then striking to observe a long piece of a substance so diamagnetic as bismuth repelled, and yet at the same moment set round with force, axially, or end on, as a piece of magnetic substance would do.' The effect perplexed him; and in his efforts to release himself from this perplexity, no feature of this new manifestation of force escaped his attention. His experiments are described in a memoir communicated to the Royal Society on December 7, 1848.

I have worked long myself at magne-crystallic action, amid all the light of Faraday's and Plucker's researches. The papers now before me were objects of daily and nightly study with me eighteen or nineteen years ago; but even now, though their perusal is but the last of a series of repetitions, they astonish me. Every circumstance connected with the subject; every shade of deportment; every variation in the energy of the action; almost every application which could possibly be made of magnetism to bring out in detail the character of this new force, is minutely described. The field is swept clean, and hardly anything experimental is left for the gleaner. The phenomena, he concludes, are altogether different from those of magnetism or diamagnetism: they would appear, in fact, to present to us 'a new force, or a new form of force, in the molecules of matter,' which, for convenience sake, he designates by a new word, as 'the magne-crystallic force.'

He looks at the crystal acted upon by the magnet. From its mass he passes, in idea, to its atoms, and he asks himself whether the power which can thus seize upon the crystalline molecules, after they have been fixed in their proper positions by crystallizing force, may not, when they are free, be able to determine their arrangement? He, therefore, liberates the atoms by fusing the bismuth. He places the fused substance between the poles of an electro-magnet, powerfully excited; but he fails to detect any action. I think it cannot be doubted that an action is exerted here, that a true cause comes into play; but its magnitude is not such as sensibly to interfere with the force of crystallization, which, in comparison with the diamagnetic force, is enormous. 'Perhaps,' adds Faraday, 'if a longer time were allowed, and a permanent magnet used, a better result might be obtained. I had built many hopes upon the process.' This expression, and his writings abound in such, illustrates what has been already said regarding his experiments being suggested and guided by his theoretic conceptions. His mind was full of hopes and hypotheses, but he always brought them to an experimental test. The record of his planned and executed experiments would, I doubt not, show a high ratio of hopes disappointed to hopes fulfilled; but every case of fulfilment abolished all memory of defeat; disappointment was swallowed up in victory.

After the description of the general character of this new force, Faraday states with the emphasis here reproduced its mode of action: 'The law of action appears to be that the line or axis of MAGNE-CRYSTALLIC force (being the resultant of the action of all the molecules) tends to place itself parallel, or as a tangent, to the magnetic curve, or line of magnetic force, passing through the place where the crystal is situated.' The magne- crystallic force, moreover, appears to him 'to be clearly distinguished from the magnetic or diamagnetic forces, in that it causes neither approach nor recession, consisting not in attraction or repulsion, but in giving a certain determinate position to the mass under its influence.' And then he goes on 'very carefully to examine and prove the conclusion that there was no connection of the force with attractive or repulsive influences.' With the most refined ingenuity he shows that, under certain circumstances, the magne-crystallic force can cause the centre of gravity of a highly magnetic body to retreat from the poles, and the centre of gravity of a highly diamagnetic body to approach them. His experiments root his mind more and more firmly in the conclusion that 'neither attraction nor repulsion causes the set, or governs the final position' of the crystal in the magnetic field. That the force which does so is therefore 'distinct in its character and effects from the magnetic and diamagnetic forms of force. On the other hand,' he continues, 'it has a most manifest relation to the crystalline structure of bismuth and other bodies, and therefore to the power by which their molecules are able to build up the crystalline masses.'

And here follows one of those expressions which characterize the conceptions of Faraday in regard to force generally:--'It appears to me impossible to conceive of the results in any other way than by a mutual reaction of the magnetic force, and the force of the particles of the crystals upon each other.' He proves that the action of the force, though thus molecular, is an action at a distance; he shows that a bismuth crystal can cause a freely suspended magnetic needle to set parallel to its magne-crystallic axis. Few living men are aware of the difficulty of obtaining results like this, or of the delicacy necessary to their attainment. 'But though it thus takes up the character of a force acting at a distance, still it is due to that power of the particles which makes them cohere in regular order and gives the mass its crystalline aggregation, which we call at other times the attraction of aggregation, and so often speak of as acting at insensible distances.' Thus he broods over this new force, and looks at it from all possible points of inspection. Experiment follows experiment, as thought follows thought. He will not relinquish the subject as long as a hope exists of throwing more light upon it. He knows full well the anomalous nature of the conclusion to which his experiments lead him. But experiment to him is final, and he will not shrink from the conclusion. 'This force,' he says, 'appears to me to be very strange and striking in its character. It is not polar, for there is no attraction or repulsion.' And then, as if startled by his own utterance, he asks--'What is the nature of the mechanical force which turns the crystal round, and makes it affect a magnet?'... 'I do not remember,' he continues 'heretofore such a case of force as the present one, where a body is brought into position only, without attraction or repulsion.'

Plucker, the celebrated geometer already mentioned, who pursued experimental physics for many years of his life with singular devotion and success, visited Faraday in those days, and repeated before him his beautiful experiments on magneto-optic action. Faraday repeated and verified Plucker's observations, and concluded, what he at first seemed to doubt, that Plucker's results and magne-crystallic action had the same origin.

At the end of his papers, when he takes a last look along the line of research, and then turns his eyes to the future, utterances quite as much emotional as scientific escape from Faraday. 'I cannot,' he says, at the end of his first paper on magne-crystallic action, 'conclude this series of researches without remarking how rapidly the knowledge of molecular forces grows upon us, and how strikingly every investigation tends to develop more and more their importance, and their extreme attraction as an object of study. A few years ago magnetism was to us an occult power, affecting only a few bodies, now it is found to influence all bodies, and to possess the most intimate relations with electricity, heat, chemical action, light, crystallization, and through it, with the forces concerned in cohesion; and we may, in the present state of things, well feel urged to continue in our labours, encouraged by the hope of bringing it into a bond of union with gravity itself.'

Supplementary remarks

A brief space will, perhaps, be granted me here to state the further progress of an investigation which interested Faraday so much. Drawn by the fame of Bunsen as a teacher, in the year 1848 I became a student in the University of Marburg, in Hesse Cassel. Bunsen's behaviour to me was that of a brother as well as that of a teacher, and it was also my happiness to make the acquaintance and gain the friendship of Professor Knoblauch, so highly distinguished by his researches on Radiant Heat. Plucker's and Faraday's investigations filled all minds at the time, and towards the end of 1849, Professor Knoblauch and myself commenced a joint investigation of the entire question. Long discipline was necessary to give us due mastery over it. Employing a method proposed by Dove, we examined the optical properties of our crystals ourselves; and these optical observations went hand in hand with our magnetic experiments. The number of these experiments was very great, but for a considerable time no fact of importance was added to those already published. At length, however, it was our fortune to meet with various crystals whose deportment could not be brought under the laws of magne- crystallic action enunciated by Plucker. We also discovered instances which led us to suppose that the magne-crystallic force was by no means independent, as alleged, of the magnetism or diamagnetism of the mass of the crystal. Indeed, the more we worked at the subject, the more clearly did it appear to us that the deportment of crystals in the magnetic field was due, not to a force previously unknown, but to the modification of the known forces of magnetism and diamagnetism by crystalline aggregation.

An eminent example of magne-crystallic action adduced by Plucker, and experimented on by Faraday, was Iceland spar. It is what in optics is called a negative crystal, and according to the law of Plucker, the axis of such a crystal was always repelled by a magnet. But we showed that it was only necessary to substitute, in whole or in part, carbonate of iron for carbonate of lime, thus changing the magnetic but not the optical character of the crystal, to cause the axis to be attracted. That the deportment of magnetic crystals is exactly antithetical to that of diamagnetic crystals isomorphous with the magnetic ones, was proved to be a general law of action. In all cases, the line which in a diamagnetic crystal set equatorially, always set itself in an isomorphous magnetic crystal axially. By mechanical compression other bodies were also made to imitate the Iceland spar.

These and numerous other results bearing upon the question were published at the time in the 'Philosophical Magazine' and in 'Poggendorff's Annalen'; and the investigation of diamagnetism and magne-crystallic action was subsequently continued by me in the laboratory of Professor Magnus of Berlin. In December, 1851, after I had quitted Germany, Dr. Bence Jones went to the Prussian capital to see the celebrated experiments of Du Bois Reymond. Influenced, I suppose, by what he there heard, he afterwards invited me to give a Friday evening discourse at the Royal Institution. I consented, not without fear and trembling. For the Royal Institution was to me a kind of dragon's den, where tact and strength would be necessary to save me from destruction. On February 11, 1853, the discourse was given, and it ended happily. I allude to these things, that I may mention that, though my aim and object in that lecture was to subvert the notions both of Faraday and Plucker, and to establish in opposition to their views what I regarded as the truth, it was very far from producing in Faraday either enmity or anger. At the conclusion of the lecture, he quitted his accustomed seat, crossed the theatre to the corner into which I had shrunk, shook me by the hand, and brought me back to the table. Once more, subsequently, and in connection with a related question, I ventured to differ from him still more emphatically. It was done out of trust in the greatness of his character; nor was the trust misplaced. He felt my public dissent from him; and it pained me afterwards to the quick to think that I had given him even momentary annoyance. It was, however, only momentary. His soul was above all littleness and proof to all egotism. He was the same to me afterwards that he had been before; the very chance expression which led me to conclude that he felt my dissent being one of kindness and affection.

It required long subsequent effort to subdue the complications of magne-crystallic action, and to bring under the dominion of elementary principles the vast mass of facts which the experiments of Faraday and Plucker had brought to light. It was proved by Reich, Edmond Becquerel, and myself, that the condition of diamagnetic bodies, in virtue of which they were repelled by the poles of a magnet, was excited in them by those poles; that the strength of this condition rose and fell with, and was proportional to, the strength of the acting magnet. It was not then any property possessed permanently by the bismuth, and which merely required the development of magnetism to act upon it, that caused the repulsion; for then the repulsion would have been simply proportional to the strength of the influencing magnet, whereas experiment proved it to augment as the square of the strength. The capacity to be repelled was therefore not inherent in the bismuth, but induced. So far an identity of action was established between magnetic and diamagnetic bodies. After this the deportment of magnetic bodies, 'normal' and 'abnormal'; crystalline, amorphous, and compressed, was compared with that of crystalline, amorphous, and compressed diamagnetic bodies; and by a series of experiments, executed in the laboratory of this Institution, the most complete antithesis was established between magnetism and diamagnetism. This antithesis embraced the quality of polarity,--the theory of reversed polarity, first propounded by Faraday, being proved to be true. The discussion of the question was very brisk. On the Continent Professor Wilhelm Weber was the ablest and most successful supporter of the doctrine of diamagnetic polarity; and it was with an apparatus, devised by him and constructed under his own superintendence, by Leyser of Leipzig, that the last demands of the opponents of diamagnetic polarity were satisfied. The establishment of this point was absolutely necessary to the explanation of magne-crystallic action.

With that admirable instinct which always guided him, Faraday had seen that it was possible, if not probable, that the diamagnetic force acts with different degrees of intensity in different directions, through the mass of a crystal. In his studies on electricity, he had sought an experimental reply to the question whether crystalline bodies had not different specific inductive capacities in different directions, but he failed to establish any difference of the kind. His first attempt to establish differences of diamagnetic action in different directions through bismuth, was also a failure; but he must have felt this to be a point of cardinal importance, for he returned to the subject in 1850, and proved that bismuth was repelled with different degrees of force in different directions. It seemed as if the crystal were compounded of two diamagnetic bodies of different strengths, the substance being more strongly repelled across the magne-crystallic axis than along it. The same result was obtained independently, and extended to various other bodies, magnetic as well as diamagnetic, and also to compressed substances, a little subsequently by myself.

The law of action in relation to this point is, that in diamagnetic crystals, the line along which the repulsion is a maximum, sets equatorially in the magnetic field; while in magnetic crystals the line along which the attraction is a maximum sets from pole to pole. Faraday had said that the magne-crystallic force was neither attraction nor repulsion. Thus far he was right. It was neither taken singly, but it was both. By the combination of the doctrine of diamagnetic polarity with these differential attractions and repulsions, and by paying due regard to the character of the magnetic field, every fact brought to light in the domain of magne-crystallic action received complete explanation. The most perplexing of those facts were shown to result from the action of mechanical couples, which the proved polarity both of magnetism and diamagnetism brought into play. Indeed the thoroughness with which the experiments of Faraday were thus explained, is the most striking possible demonstration of the marvellous precision with which they were executed.