Elements of Chemistry, by Antoine Lavoisier

Chapter II.

Of Gazometry, or the Measurement of the Weight and Volume of Aëriform Substances.

Sect. I.

Description of the Pneumato-chemical Apparatus.

The French chemists have of late applied the name of pneumato-chemical apparatus to the very simple and ingenious contrivance, invented by Dr Priestley, which is now indispensibly necessary to every laboratory. This consists of a wooden trough, of larger or smaller dimensions as is thought convenient, lined with plate-lead or tinned copper, as represented in perspective, Pl. V. In Fig. 1. the same trough or cistern is supposed to have two of its sides cut away, to show its interior construction more distinctly. In this apparatus, we distinguish between the shelf ABCD Fig. 1. and 2. and the bottom or body of the cistern FGHI Fig. 2. The jars or bell-glasses are filled with water in this deep part, and, being turned with their mouths downwards, are afterwards set upon the shelf ABCD, as shown Plate X. Fig. 1. F. The upper parts of the sides of the cistern above the level of the shelf are called the rim or borders.

The cistern ought to be filled with water, so as to stand at least an inch and a half deep upon the shelf, and it should be of such dimensions as to admit of at least one foot of water in every direction in the well. This size is sufficient for ordinary occasions; but it is often convenient, and even necessary, to have more room; I would therefore advise such as intend to employ themselves usefully in chemical experiments, to have this apparatus made of considerable magnitude, where their place of operating will allow. The well of my principal cistern holds four cubical feet of water, and its shelf has a surface of fourteen square feet; yet, in spite of this size, which I at first thought immoderate, I am often straitened for room.

In laboratories, where a considerable number of experiments are performed, it is necessary to have several lesser cisterns, besides the large one, which may be called the general magazine; and even some portable ones, which may be moved when necessary, near a furnace, or wherever they may be wanted. There are likewise some operations which dirty the water of the apparatus, and therefore require to be carried on in cisterns by themselves.

It were doubtless considerably cheaper to use cisterns, or iron-bound tubs, of wood simply dove-tailed, instead of being lined with lead or copper; and in my first experiments I used them made in that way; but I soon discovered their inconvenience. If the water be not always kept at the same level, such of the dovetails as are left dry shrink, and, when more water is added, it escapes through the joints, and runs out.

We employ cristal jars or bell glasses, Pl. V. Fig. 9. A. for containing the gasses in this apparatus; and, for transporting these, when full of gas, from one cistern to another, or for keeping them in reserve when the cistern is too full, we make use of a flat dish BC, surrounded by a standing up rim or border, with two handles DE for carrying it by.

After several trials of different materials, I have found marble the best substance for constructing the mercurial pneumato-chemical apparatus, as it is perfectly impenetrable by mercury, and is not liable, like wood, to separate at the junctures, or to allow the mercury to escape through chinks; neither does it run the risk of breaking, like glass, stone-ware, or porcelain. Take a block of marble BCDE, Plate V. Fig. 3. and 4. about two feet long, 15 or 18 inches broad, and ten inches thick, and cause it to be hollowed out as at m n Fig. 5. about four inches deep, as a reservoir for the mercury; and, to be able more conveniently to fill the jars, cut the gutter T V, Fig. 3. 4. and 5. at least four inches deeper; and, as this trench may sometimes prove troublesome, it is made capable of being covered at pleasure by thin boards, which slip into the grooves x y, Fig. 5. I have two marble cisterns upon this construction, of different sizes, by which I can always employ one of them as a reservoir of mercury, which it preserves with more safety than any other vessel, being neither subject to overturn, nor to any other accident. We operate with mercury in this apparatus exactly as with water in the one before described; but the bell-glasses must be of smaller diameter, and much stronger; or we may use glass tubes, having their mouths widened, as in Fig. 7.; these are called eudiometers by the glass-men who sell them. One of the bell-glasses is represented Fig. 5. A. standing in its place, and what is called a jar is engraved Fig. 6.

The mercurial pneumato-chemical apparatus is necessary in all experiments wherein the disengaged gasses are capable of being absorbed by water, as is frequently the case, especially in all combinations, excepting those of metals, in fermentation, &c.

Sect. II.

Of the Gazometer.

I give the name of gazometer to an instrument which I invented, and caused construct, for the purpose of a kind of bellows, which might furnish an uniform and continued stream of oxygen gas in experiments of fusion. Mr Meusnier and I have since made very considerable corrections and additions, having converted it into what may be called an universal instrument, without which it is hardly possible to perform most of the very exact experiments. The name we have given the instrument indicates its intention for measuring the volume or quantity of gas submitted to it for examination.

It consists of a strong iron beam, DE, Pl. VIII. Fig. 1. three feet long, having at each end, D and E, a segment of a circle, likewise strongly constructed of iron, and very firmly joined. Instead of being poised as in ordinary balances, this beam rests, by means of a cylindrical axis of polished steel, F, Fig. 9. upon two large moveable brass friction-wheels, by which the resistance to its motion from friction is considerably diminished, being converted into friction of the second order. As an additional precaution, the parts of these wheels which support the axis of the beam are covered with plates of polished rock-cristal. The whole of this machinery is fixed to the top of the solid column of wood BC, Fig. 1. To one extremity D of the beam, a scale P for holding weights is suspended by a flat chain, which applies to the curvature of the arc nDo, in a groove made for the purpose. To the other extremity E of the beam is applied another flat chain, i k m, so constructed, as to be incapable of lengthening or shortening, by being less or more charged with weight; to this chain, an iron trivet, with three branches, a i, c i, and h i, is strongly fixed at i, and these branches support a large inverted jar A, of hammered copper, of about 18 inches diameter, and 20 inches deep. The whole of this machine is represented in perspective, Pl. VIII. Fig. 1. and Pl. IX. Fig. 2. and 4. give perpendicular sections, which show its interior structure.

Round the bottom of the jar, on its outside, is fixed (Pl. IX. Fig. 2.) a border divided into compartments 1, 2, 3, 4, &c. intended to receive leaden weights separately represented 1, 2, 3, Fig. 3. These are intended for increasing the weight of the jar when a considerable pressure is requisite, as will be afterwards explained, though such necessity seldom occurs. The cylindrical jar A is entirely open below, de, Pl. IX. Fig. 4.; but is closed above with a copper lid, a b c, open at b f, and capable of being shut by the cock g. This lid, as may be seen by inspecting the figures, is placed a few inches within the top of the jar to prevent the jar from being ever entirely immersed in the water, and covered over. Were I to have this instrument made over again, I should cause the lid to be considerably more flattened, so as to be almost level. This jar or reservoir of air is contained in the cylindrical copper vessel, LMNO, Pl. VIII. Fig. 1. filled with water.

In the middle of the cylindrical vessel LMNO, Pl. IX. Fig. 4. are placed two tubes st, xy, which are made to approach each other at their upper extremities t y; these are made of such a length as to rise a little above the upper edge LM of the vessel LMNO, and when the jar abcde touches the bottom NO, their upper ends enter about half an inch into the conical hollow b, leading to the stop-cock g.

The bottom of the vessel LMNO is represented Pl. IX. Fig. 3. in the middle of which a small hollow semispherical cap is soldered, which may be considered as the broad end of a funnel reversed; the two tubes st, xy, Fig. 4. are adapted to this cap at s and x, and by this means communicate with the tubes mm, nn, oo, pp, Fig. 3. which are fixed horizontally upon the bottom of the vessel, and all of which terminate in, and are united by, the spherical cap sx. Three of these tubes are continued out of the vessel, as in Pl. VIII. Fig. 1. The first marked in that figure 1, 2, 3, is inserted at its extremity 3, by means of an intermediate stop-cock 4, to the jar V. which stands upon the shelf of a small pneumato-chemical apparatus GHIK, the inside of which is shown Pl. IX. Fig. 1. The second tube is applied against the outside of the vessel LMNO from 6 to 7, is continued at 8, 9, 10, and at 11 is engaged below the jar V. The former of these tubes is intended for conveying gas into the machine, and the latter for conducting small quantities for trials under jars. The gas is made either to flow into or out of the machine, according to the degree of pressure it receives; and this pressure is varied at pleasure, by loading the scale P less or more, by means of weights. When gas is to be introduced into the machine, the pressure is taken off, or even rendered negative; but, when gas is to be expelled, a pressure is made with such degree of force as is found necessary.

The third tube 12, 13, 14, 15, is intended for conveying air or gas to any necessary place or apparatus for combustions, combinations, or any other experiment in which it is required.

To explain the use of the fourth tube, I must enter into some discussions. Suppose the vessel LMNO, Pl. VIII. Fig. 1. full of water, and the jar A partly filled with gas, and partly with water; it is evident that the weights in the bason P may be so adjusted, as to occasion an exact equilibrium between the weight of the bason and of the jar, so that the external air shall not tend to enter into the jar, nor the gas to escape from it; and in this case the water will stand exactly at the same level both within and without the jar. On the contrary, if the weight in the bason P be diminished, the jar will then press downwards from its own gravity, and the water will stand lower within the jar than it does without; in this case, the included air or gas will suffer a degree of compression above that experienced by the external air, exactly proportioned to the weight of a column of water, equal to the difference of the external and internal surfaces of the water. From these reflections, Mr Meusnier contrived a method of determining the exact degree of pressure to which the gas contained in the jar is at any time exposed. For this purpose, he employs a double glass syphon 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, firmly cemented at 19 and 23. The extremity 19 of this syphon communicates freely with the water in the external vessel of the machine, and the extremity 23 communicates with the fourth tube at the bottom of the cylindrical vessel, and consequently, by means of the perpendicular tube st, Pl. IX. Fig. 4. with the air contained in the jar. He likewise cements, at 16, Pl. VIII. Fig. 1. another glass tube 16, 17, 18, which communicates at 16 with the water in the exterior vessel LMNO, and, at its upper end 18, is open to the external air.

By these several contrivances, it is evident that the water must stand in the tube 16, 17, 18, at the same level with that in the cistern LMNO; and, on the contrary, that, in the branch 19, 20, 21, it must stand higher or lower, according as the air in the jar is subjected to a greater or lesser pressure than the external air. To ascertain these differences, a brass scale divided into inches and lines is fixed between these two tubes. It is readily conceived that, as air, and all other elastic fluids, must increase in weight by compression, it is necessary to know their degree of condensation to be enabled to calculate their quantities, and to convert the measure of their volumes into correspondent weights; and this object is intended to be fulfilled by the contrivance now described.

But, to determine the specific gravity of air or of gasses, and to ascertain their weight in a known volume, it is necessary to know their temperature, as well as the degree of pressure under which they subsist; and this is accomplished by means of a small thermometer, strongly cemented into a brass collet, which screws into the lid of the jar A. This thermometer is represented separately, Pl. VIII. Fig. 10. and in its place 24, 25, Fig. 1. and Pl. IX. Fig. 4. The bulb is in the inside of the jar A, and its graduated stalk rises on the outside of the lid.

The practice of gazometry would still have laboured under great difficulties, without farther precautions than those above described. When the jar A sinks in the water of the cistern LMNO, it must lose a weight equal to that of the water which it displaces; and consequently the compression which it makes upon the contained air or gas must be proportionally diminished. Hence the gas furnished, during experiments from the machine, will not have the same density towards the end that it had at the beginning, as its specific gravity is continually diminishing. This difference may, it is true, be determined by calculation; but this would have occasioned such mathematical investigations as must have rendered the use of this apparatus both troublesome and difficult. Mr Meusnier has remedied this inconvenience by the following contrivance. A square rod of iron, 26, 27, Pl. VIII. Fig. 1. is raised perpendicular to the middle of the beam DE. This rod passes through a hollow box of brass 28, which opens, and may be filled with lead; and this box is made to slide alongst the rod, by means of a toothed pinion playing in a rack, so as to raise or lower the box, and to fix it at such places as is judged proper.

When the lever or beam DE stands horizontal, this box gravitates to neither side; but, when the jar A sinks into the cistern LMNO, so as to make the beam incline to that side, it is evident the loaded box 28, which then passes beyond the center of suspension, must gravitate to the side of the jar, and augment its pressure upon the included air. This is increased in proportion as the box is raised towards 27, because the same weight exerts a greater power in proportion to the length of the lever by which it acts. Hence, by moving the box 28 alongst the rod 26, 27, we can augment or diminish the correction it is intended to make upon the pressure of the jar; and both experience and calculation show that this may be made to compensate very exactly for the loss of weight in the jar at all degrees of pressure.

I have not hitherto explained the most important part of the use of this machine, which is the manner of employing it for ascertaining the quantities of the air or gas furnished during experiments. To determine this with the most rigorous precision, and likewise the quantity supplied to the machine from experiments, we fixed to the arc which terminates the arm of the beam E, Pl. VIII. Fig. 1. the brass sector l m, divided into degrees and half degrees, which consequently moves in common with the beam; and the lowering of this end of the beam is measured by the fixed index 29, 30, which has a Nonius giving hundredth parts of a degree at its extremity 30.

The whole particulars of the different parts of the above described machine are represented in Plate VIII. as follow.

Fig. 2. Is the flat chain invented by Mr Vaucanson, and employed for suspending the scale or bason P, Fig. 1; but, as this lengthens or shortens according as it is more or less loaded, it would not have answered for suspending the jar A, Fig. 1.

Fig. 5. Is the chain i k m, which in Fig. 1. sustains the jar A. This is entirely formed of plates of polished iron interlaced into each other, and held together by iron pins. This chain does not lengthen in any sensible degree, by any weight it is capable of supporting.

Fig. 6. The trivet, or three branched stirrup, by which the jar A is hung to the balance, with the screw by which it is fixed in an accurately vertical position.

Fig. 3. The iron rod 26, 27, which is fixed perpendicular to the center of the beam, with its box 28.

Fig. 7. & 8. The friction-wheels, with the plates of rock-cristal Z, as points of contact by which the friction of the axis of the lever of the balance is avoided.

Fig. 4. The piece of metal which supports the axis of the friction-wheels.

Fig. 9. The middle of the lever or beam, with the axis upon which it moves.

Fig. 10. The thermometer for determining the temperature of the air or gas contained in the jar.

When this gazometer is to be used, the cistern or external vessel, LMNO, Pl. VIII. Fig. 1. is to be filled with water to a determinate height, which should be the same in all experiments. The level of the water should be taken when the beam of the balance stands horizontal; this level, when the jar is at the bottom of the cistern, is increased by all the water which it displaces, and is diminished in proportion as the jar rises to its highest elevation. We next endeavour, by repeated trials, to discover at what elevation the box 28 must be fixed, to render the pressure equal in all situations of the beam. I should have said nearly, because this correction is not absolutely rigorous; and differences of a quarter, or even of half a line, are not of any consequence. This height of the box 28 is not the same for every degree of pressure, but varies according as this is of one, two, three, or more inches. All these should be registered with great order and precision.

We next take a bottle which holds eight or ten pints, the capacity of which is very accurately determined by weighing the water it is capable of containing. This bottle is turned bottom upwards, full of water, in the cistern of the pneumato chemical apparatus GHIK, Fig. 1. and is set on its mouth upon the shelf of the apparatus, instead of the glass jar V, having the extremity 11 of the tube 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, inserted into its mouth. The machine is fixed at zero of pressure, and the degree marked by the index 30 upon the sector m l is accurately observed; then, by opening the stop-cock 8, and pressing a little upon the jar A, as much air is forced into the bottle as fills it entirely. The degree marked by the index upon the sector is now observed, and we calculate what number of cubical inches correspond to each degree. We then fill a second and third bottle, and so on, in the same manner, with the same precautions, and even repeat the operation several times with bottles of different sizes, till at last, by accurate attention, we ascertain the exact gage or capacity of the jar A, in all its parts; but it is better to have it formed at first accurately cylindrical, by which we avoid these calculations and estimates.

The instrument I have been describing was constructed with great accuracy and uncommon skill by Mr Meignie junior, engineer and physical instrument-maker. It is a most valuable instrument, from the great number of purposes to which it is applicable; and, indeed, there are many experiments which are almost impossible to be performed without it. It becomes expensive, because, in many experiments, such as the formation of water and of nitric acid, it is absolutely necessary to employ two of the same machines. In the present advanced state of chemistry, very expensive and complicated instruments are become indispensibly necessary for ascertaining the analysis and synthesis of bodies with the requisite precision as to quantity and proportion; it is certainly proper to endeavour to simplify these, and to render them less costly; but this ought by no means to be attempted at the expence of their conveniency of application, and much less of their accuracy.

Sect. III.

Some other methods of measuring the volume of Gasses.

The gazometer described in the foregoing section is too costly and too complicated for being generally used in laboratories for measuring the gasses, and is not even applicable to every circumstance of this kind. In numerous series of experiments, more simple and more readily applicable methods must be employed. For this purpose I shall describe the means I used before I was in possession of a gazometer, and which I still use in preference to it in the ordinary course of my experiments.

Suppose that, after an experiment, there is a residuum of gas, neither absorbable by alkali nor water, contained in the upper part of the jar AEF, Pl. IV. Fig. 3. standing on the shelf of a pneumato-chemical apparatus, of which we wish to ascertain the quantity, we must first mark the height to which the mercury or water rises in the jar with great exactness, by means of slips of paper pasted in several parts round the jar. If we have been operating in mercury, we begin by displacing the mercury from the jar, by introducing water in its stead. This is readily done by filling a bottle quite full of water; having stopped it with your finger, turn it up, and introduce its mouth below the edge of the jar; then, turning down its body again, the mercury, by its gravity, falls into the bottle, and the water rises in the jar, and takes the place occupied by the mercury. When this is accomplished, pour so much water into the cistern ABCD as will stand about an inch over the surface of the mercury; then pass the dish BC, Pl. V. Fig. 9. under the jar, and carry it to the water cistern, Fig. 1. and 2. We here exchange the gas into another jar, which has been previously graduated in the manner to be afterwards described; and we thus judge of the quantity or volume of the gas by means of the degrees which it occupies in the graduated jar.

There is another method of determining the volume of gas, which may either be substituted in place of the one above described, or may be usefully employed as a correction or proof of that method. After the air or gas is exchanged from the first jar, marked with slips of paper, into the graduated jar, turn up the mouth of the marked jar, and fill it with water exactly to the marks EF, Pl. IV. Fig. 3. and by weighing the water we determine the volume of the air or gas it contained, allowing one cubical foot, or 1728 cubical inches, of water for each 70 pounds, French weight.

The manner of graduating jars for this purpose is very easy, and we ought to be provided with several of different sizes, and even several of each size, in case of accidents. Take a tall, narrow, and strong glass jar, and, having filled it with water in the cistern, Pl. V. Fig. 1. place it upon the shelf ABCD; we ought always to use the same place for this operation, that the level of the shelf may be always exactly similar, by which almost the only error to which this process is liable will be avoided. Then take a narrow mouthed phial which holds exactly 6 oz. 3 gros 61 grs. of water, which corresponds to 10 cubical inches. If you have not one exactly of this dimension, choose one a little larger, and diminish its capacity to the size requisite, by dropping in a little melted wax and rosin. This bottle serves the purpose of a standard for gaging the jars. Make the air contained in this bottle pass into the jar, and mark exactly the place to which the water has descended; add another measure of air, and again mark the place of the water, and so on, till all the water be displaced. It is of great consequence that, during the course of this operation, the bottle and jar be kept at the same temperature with the water in the cistern; and, for this reason, we must avoid keeping the hands upon either as much as possible; or, if we suspect they have been heated, we must cool them by means of the water in the cistern. The height of the barometer and thermometer during this experiment is of no consequence.

When the marks have been thus ascertained upon the jar for every ten cubical inches, we engrave a scale upon one of its sides, by means of a diamond pencil. Glass tubes are graduated in the same manner for using in the mercurial apparatus, only they must be divided into cubical inches, and tenths of a cubical inch. The bottle used for gaging these must hold 8 oz. 6 gros 25 grs. of mercury, which exactly corresponds to a cubical inch of that metal.

The method of determining the volume of air or gas, by means of a graduated jar, has the advantage of not requiring any correction for the difference of height between the surface of the water within the jar, and in the cistern; but it requires corrections with respect to the height of the barometer and thermometer. But, when we ascertain the volume of air by weighing the water which the jar is capable of containing, up to the marks EF, it is necessary to make a farther correction, for the difference between the surface of the water in the cistern, and the height to which it rises within the jar. This will be explained in the fifth section of this chapter.

Sect. IV.

Of the method of Separating the different Gasses from each other.

As experiments often produce two, three, or more species of gas, it is necessary to be able to separate these from each other, that we may ascertain the quantity and species of each. Suppose that under the jar A, Pl. IV. Fig. 3. is contained a quantity of different gasses mixed together, and standing over mercury, we begin by marking with slips of paper, as before directed, the height at which the mercury stands within the glass; then introduce about a cubical inch of water into the jar, which will swim over the surface of the mercury: If the mixture of gas contains any muriatic or sulphurous acid gas, a rapid and considerable absorption will instantly take place, from the strong tendency these two gasses have, especially the former, to combine with, or be absorbed by water. If the water only produces a slight absorption of gas hardly equal to its own bulk, we conclude, that the mixture neither contains muriatic acid, sulphuric acid, or ammoniacal gas, but that it contains carbonic acid gas, of which water only absorbs about its own bulk. To ascertain this conjecture, introduce some solution of caustic alkali, and the carbonic acid gas will be gradually absorbed in the course of a few hours; it combines with the caustic alkali or potash, and the remaining gas is left almost perfectly free from any sensible residuum of carbonic acid gas.

After each experiment of this kind, we must carefully mark the height at which the mercury stands within the jar, by slips of paper pasted on, and varnished over when dry, that they may not be washed off when placed in the water apparatus. It is likewise necessary to register the difference between the surface of the mercury in the cistern and that in the jar, and the height of the barometer and thermometer, at the end of each experiment.

When all the gas or gasses absorbable by water and potash are absorbed, water is admitted into the jar to displace the mercury; and, as is described in the preceding section, the mercury in the cistern is to be covered by one or two inches of water. After this, the jar is to be transported by means of the flat dish BC, Pl. V. Fig. 9. into the water apparatus; and the quantity of gas remaining is to be ascertained by changing it into a graduated jar. After this, small trials of it are to be made by experiments in little jars, to ascertain nearly the nature of the gas in question. For instance, into a small jar full of the gas, Fig. 8. Pl. V. a lighted taper is introduced; if the taper is not immediately extinguished, we conclude the gas to contain oxygen gas; and, in proportion to the brightness of the flame, we may judge if it contain less or more oxygen gas than atmospheric air contains. If, on the contrary, the taper be instantly extinguished, we have strong reason to presume that the residuum is chiefly composed of azotic gas. If, upon the approach of the taper, the gas takes fire and burns quietly at the surface with a white flame, we conclude it to be pure hydrogen gas; if this flame is blue, we judge it consists of carbonated hydrogen gas; and, if it takes fire with a sudden deflagration, that it is a mixture of oxygen and hydrogen gas. If, again, upon mixing a portion of the residuum with oxygen gas, red fumes are produced, we conclude that it contains nitrous gas.

These preliminary trials give some general knowledge of the properties of the gas, and nature of the mixture, but are not sufficient to determine the proportions and quantities of the several gasses of which it is composed. For this purpose all the methods of analysis must be employed; and, to direct these properly, it is of great use to have a previous approximation by the above methods. Suppose, for instance, we know that the residuum consists of oxygen and azotic gas mixed together, put a determinate quantity, 100 parts, into a graduated tube of ten or twelve lines diameter, introduce a solution of sulphuret of potash in contact with the gas, and leave them together for some days; the sulphuret absorbs the whole oxygen gas, and leaves the azotic gas pure.

If it is known to contain hydrogen gas, a determinate quantity is introduced into Volta's eudiometer alongst with a known proportion of hydrogen gas; these are deflagrated together by means of the electrical spark; fresh portions of oxygen gas are successively added, till no farther deflagration takes place, and till the greatest possible diminution is produced. By this process water is formed, which is immediately absorbed by the water of the apparatus; but, if the hydrogen gas contain charcoal, carbonic acid is formed at the same time, which is not absorbed so quickly; the quantity of this is readily ascertained by assisting its absorption, by means of agitation. If the residuum contains nitrous gas, by adding oxygen gas, with which it combines into nitric acid, we can very nearly ascertain its quantity, from the diminution produced by this mixture.

I confine myself to these general examples, which are sufficient to give an idea of this kind of operations; a whole volume would not serve to explain every possible case. It is necessary to become familiar with the analysis of gasses by long experience; we must even acknowledge that they mostly possess such powerful affinities to each other, that we are not always certain of having separated them completely. In these cases, we must vary our experiments in every possible point of view, add new agents to the combination, and keep out others, and continue our trials, till we are certain of the truth and exactitude of our conclusions.

Sect. V.

Of the necessary corrections upon the volume of the Gasses, according to the pressure of the Atmosphere.

All elastic fluids are compressible or condensible in proportion to the weight with which they are loaded. Perhaps this law, which is ascertained by general experience, may suffer some irregularity when these fluids are under a degree of condensation almost sufficient to reduce them to the liquid state, or when either in a state of extreme rarefaction or condensation; but we seldom approach either of these limits with most of the gasses which we submit to our experiments. I understand this proposition of gasses being compressible, in proportion to their superincumbent weights, as follows:

A barometer, which is an instrument generally known, is, properly speaking, a species of syphon, ABCD, Pl. XII. Fig. 16. whose leg AB is filled with mercury, whilst the leg CD is full of air. If we suppose the branch CD indefinitely continued till it equals the height of our atmosphere, we can readily conceive that the barometer is, in reality, a sort of balance, in which a column of mercury stands in equilibrium with a column of air of the same weight. But it is unnecessary to prolongate the branch CD to such a height, as it is evident that the barometer being immersed in air, the column of mercury AB will be equally in equilibrium with a column of air of the same diameter, though the leg CD be cut off at C, and the part CD be taken away altogether.

The medium height of mercury in equilibrium with the weight of a column of air, from the highest part of the atmosphere to the surface of the earth is about twenty-eight French inches in the lower parts of the city of Paris; or, in other words, the air at the surface of the earth at Paris is usually pressed upon by a weight equal to that of a column of mercury twenty-eight inches in height. I must be understood in this way in the several parts of this publication when talking of the different gasses, as, for instance, when the cubical foot of oxygen gas is said to weigh 1 oz. 4 gros, under 28 inches pressure. The height of this column of mercury, supported by the pressure of the air, diminishes in proportion as we are elevated above the surface of the earth, or rather above the level of the sea, because the mercury can only form an equilibrium with the column of air which is above it, and is not in the smallest degree affected by the air which is below its level.

In what ratio does the mercury in the barometer descend in proportion to its elevation? or, what is the same thing, according to what law or ratio do the several strata of the atmosphere decrease in density? This question, which has exercised the ingenuity of natural philosophers during last century, is considerably elucidated by the following experiment.

If we take the glass syphon ABCDE, Pl. XII. Fig. 17. shut at E, and open at A, and introduce a few drops of mercury, so as to intercept the communication of air between the leg AB and the leg BE, it is evident that the air contained in BCDE is pressed upon, in common with the whole surrounding air, by a weight or column of air equal to 28 inches of mercury. But, if we pour 28 inches of mercury into the leg AB, it is plain the air in the branch BCDE will now be pressed upon by a weight equal to twice 28 inches of mercury, or twice the weight of the atmosphere; and experience shows, that, in this case, the included air, instead of filling the tube from B to E, only occupies from C to E, or exactly one half of the space it filled before. If to this first column of mercury we add two other portions of 28 inches each, in the branch AB, the air in the branch BCDE will be pressed upon by four times the weight of the atmosphere, or four times the weight of 28 inches of mercury, and it will then only fill the space from D to E, or exactly one quarter of the space it occupied at the commencement of the experiment. From these experiments, which may be infinitely varied, has been deduced as a general law of nature, which seems applicable to all permanently elastic fluids, that they diminish in volume in proportion to the weights with which they are pressed upon; or, in other words, "the volume of all elastic fluids is in the inverse ratio of the weight by which they are compressed."

The experiments which have been made for measuring the heights of mountains by means of the barometer, confirm the truth of these deductions; and, even supposing them in some degree inaccurate, these differences are so extremely small, that they may be reckoned as nullities in chemical experiments. When this law of the compression of elastic fluids is once well understood, it becomes easily applicable to the corrections necessary in pneumato chemical experiments upon the volume of gas, in relation to its pressure. These corrections are of two kinds, the one relative to the variations of the barometer, and the other for the column of water or mercury contained in the jars. I shall endeavour to explain these by examples, beginning with the most simple case.

Suppose that 100 cubical inches of oxygen gas are obtained at 10° (54.5°) of the thermometer, and at 28 inches 6 lines of the barometer, it is required to know what volume the 100 cubical inches of gas would occupy, under the pressure of 28 inches58, and what is the exact weight of the 100 inches of oxygen gas? Let the unknown volume, or the number of inches this gas would occupy at 28 inches of the barometer, be expressed by x; and, since the volumes are in the inverse ratio of their superincumbent weights, we have the following statement: 100 cubical inches is to x inversely as 28.5 inches of pressure is to 28.0 inches; or directly 28: 28.5:: 100: x = 101.786 — cubical inches, at 28 inches barometrical pressure; that is to say, the same gas or air which at 28.5 inches of the barometer occupies 100 cubical inches of volume, will occupy 101.786 cubical inches when the barometer is at 28 inches. It is equally easy to calculate the weight of this gas, occupying 100 cubical inches, under 28.5 inches of barometrical pressure; for, as it corresponds to 101.786 cubical inches at the pressure of 28, and as, at this pressure, and at 10° (54.5°) of temperature, each cubical inch of oxygen gas weighs half a grain, it follows, that 100 cubical inches, under 28.5 barometrical pressure, must weigh 50.893 grains. This conclusion might have been formed more directly, as, since the volume of elastic fluids is in the inverse ratio of their compression, their weights must be in the direct ratio of the same compression: Hence, since 100 cubical inches weigh 50 grains, under the pressure of 28 inches, we have the following statement to determine the weight of 100 cubical inches of the same gas as 28.5 barometrical pressure, 28: 50:: 28.5: x, the unknown quantity, = 50.893.

The following case is more complicated: Suppose the jar A, Pl. XII. Fig. 18. to contain a quantity of gas in its upper part ACD, the rest of the jar below CD being full of mercury, and the whole standing in the mercurial bason or reservoir GHIK, filled with mercury up to EF, and that the difference between the surface CD of the mercury in the jar, and EF, that in the cistern, is six inches, while the barometer stands at 27.5 inches. It is evident from these data, that the air contained in ACD is pressed upon by the weight of the atmosphere, diminished by the weight of the column of mercury CE, or by 27.5 - 6 = 21.5 inches of barometrical pressure. This air is therefore less compressed than the atmosphere at the mean height of the barometer, and consequently occupies more space than it would occupy at the mean pressure, the difference being exactly proportional to the difference between the compressing weights. If, then, upon measuring the space ACD, it is found to be 120 cubical inches, it must be reduced to the volume which it would occupy under the mean pressure of 28 inches. This is done by the following statement: 120: x, the unknown volume,:: 21.5: 28 inversely; this gives x = 120 × 21.5 / 28 = 92.143 cubical inches.

In these calculations we may either reduce the height of the mercury in the barometer, and the difference of level in the jar and bason, into lines or decimal fractions of the inch; but I prefer the latter, as it is more readily calculated. As, in these operations, which frequently recur, it is of great use to have means of abbreviation, I have given a table in the appendix for reducing lines and fractions of lines into decimal fractions of the inch.

In experiments performed in the water-apparatus, we must make similar corrections to procure rigorously exact results, by taking into account, and making allowances for the difference of height of the water within the jar above the surface of the water in the cistern. But, as the pressure of the atmosphere is expressed in inches and lines of the mercurial barometer, and, as homogeneous quantities only can be calculated together, we must reduce the observed inches and lines of water into correspondent heights of the mercury. I have given a table in the appendix for this conversion, upon the supposition that mercury is 13.5681 times heavier than water.

Sect. VI.

Of Corrections relative to the Degrees of the Thermometer.

In ascertaining the weight of gasses, besides reducing them to a mean of barometrical pressure, as directed in the preceding section, we must likewise reduce them to a standard thermometrical temperature; because, all elastic fluids being expanded by heat, and condensed by cold, their weight in any determinate volume is thereby liable to considerable alterations. As the temperature of 10° (54.5°) is a medium between the heat of summer and the cold of winter, being the temperature of subterraneous places, and that which is most easily approached to at all seasons, I have chosen that degree as a mean to which I reduce air or gas in this species of calculation.

Mr de Luc found that atmospheric air was increased 1/215 part of its bulk, by each degree of a mercurial thermometer, divided into 81 degrees, between the freezing and boiling points; this gives 1/211 part for each degree of Reaumur's thermometer, which is divided into 80 degrees between these two points. The experiments of Mr Monge seem to make this dilatation less for hydrogen gas, which he thinks is only dilated 1/180. We have not any exact experiments hitherto published respecting the ratio of dilatation of the other gasses; but, from the trials which have been made, their dilatation seems to differ little from that of atmospheric air. Hence I may take for granted, till farther experiments give us better information upon this subject, that atmospherical air is dilated 1/210 part, and hydrogen gas 1/190 part for each degree of the thermometer; but, as there is still great uncertainty upon this point, we ought always to operate in a temperature as near as possible to the standard of 10°, (54.5°) by this means any errors in correcting the weight or volume of gasses by reducing them to the common standard, will become of little moment.

The calculation for this correction is extremely easy. Divide the observed volume of air by 210, and multiply the quotient by the degrees of temperature above or below 10° (54.5°). This correction is negative when the actual temperature is above the standard, and positive when below. By the use of logarithmical tables this calculation is much facilitated59.

Sect. VII.

Example for calculating the Corrections relative to the Variations of Pressure and Temperature.


In the jar A, Pl. IV. Fig. 3. standing in a water apparatus, is contained 353 cubical inches of air; the surface of the water within the jar at EF is 4-1/2 inches above the water in the cistern, the barometer is at 27 inches 9-1/2 lines, and the thermometer at 15° (65.75°). Having burnt a quantity of phosphorus in the air, by which concrete phosphoric acid is produced, the air after the combustion occupies 295 cubical inches, the water within the jar stands 7 inches above that in the cistern, the barometer is at 27 inches 9-1/4 lines, and the thermometer at 16° (68°). It is required from these data to determine the actual volume of air before and after combustion, and the quantity absorbed during the process.

Calculation before Combustion.

The air in the jar before combustion was 353 cubical inches, but it was only under a barometrical pressure of 27 inches 9-1/2 lines; which, reduced to decimal fractions by Tab. I. of the Appendix, gives 27.79167 inches; and from this we must deduct the difference of 4-1/2 inches of water, which, by Tab. II. corresponds to 0.33166 inches of the barometer; hence the real pressure of the air in the jar is 27.46001. As the volume of elastic fluids diminish in the inverse ratio of the compressing weights, we have the following statement to reduce the 353 inches to the volume the air would occupy at 28 inches barometrical pressure.

353: x, the unknown volume,:: 27.46001: 28. Hence, x = 353 × 27.46001 / 28 = 346.192 cubical inches, which is the volume the same quantity of air would have occupied at 28 inches of the barometer.

The 210th part of this corrected volume is 1.65, which, for the five degrees of temperature above the standard gives 8.255 cubical inches; and, as this correction is subtractive, the real corrected volume of the air before combustion is 337.942 inches.

Calculation after Combustion.

By a similar calculation upon the volume of air after combustion, we find its barometrical pressure 27.77083 - 0.51593 = 27.25490. Hence, to have the volume of air under the pressure of 28 inches, 295: x:: 27.77083: 28 inversely; or, x = 295 x 27.25490 / 28 = 287.150. The 210th part of this corrected volume is 1.368, which, multiplied by 6 degrees of thermometrical difference, gives the subtractive correction for temperature 8.208, leaving the actual corrected volume of air after combustion 278.942 inches.

The corrected volume before combustion 337.942
Ditto remaining after combustion 278.942
Volume absorbed during combustion 59.000.

Sect. VIII.

Method of determining the Absolute Gravity of the different Gasses.

Take a large balloon A, Pl. V. Fig. 10. capable of holding 17 or 18 pints, or about half a cubical foot, having the brass cap bcde strongly cemented to its neck, and to which the tube and stop-cock f g is fixed by a tight screw. This apparatus is connected by the double screw represented separately at Fig. 12. to the jar BCD, Fig. 10. which must be some pints larger in dimensions than the balloon. This jar is open at top, and is furnished with the brass cap h i, and stop-cock l m. One of these slop-cocks is represented separately at Fig. 11.

We first determine the exact capacity of the balloon by filling it with water, and weighing it both full and empty. When emptied of water, it is dried with a cloth introduced through its neck d e, and the last remains of moisture are removed by exhausting it once or twice in an air-pump.

When the weight of any gas is to be ascertained, this apparatus is used as follows: Fix the balloon A to the plate of an air-pump by means of the screw of the stop-cock f g, which is left open; the balloon is to be exhausted as completely as possible, observing carefully the degree of exhaustion by means of the barometer attached to the air-pump. When the vacuum is formed, the stop-cock f g is shut, and the weight of the balloon determined with the most scrupulous exactitude. It is then fixed to the jar BCD, which we suppose placed in water in the shelf of the pneumato chemical apparatus Fig. 1.; the jar is to be filled with the gas we mean to weigh, and then, by opening the stop-cocks f g and l m, the gas ascends into the balloon, whilst the water of the cistern rises at the same time into the jar. To avoid very troublesome corrections, it is necessary, during this first part of the operation, to sink the jar in the cistern till the surfaces of the water within the jar and without exactly correspond. The stop-cocks are again shut, and the balloon being unscrewed from its connection with the jar, is to be carefully weighed; the difference between this weight and that of the exhausted balloon is the precise weight of the air or gas contained in the balloon. Multiply this weight by 1728, the number of cubical inches in a cubical foot, and divide the product by the number of cubical inches contained in the balloon, the quotient is the weight of a cubical foot of the gas or air submitted to experiment.

Exact account must be kept of the barometrical height and temperature of the thermometer during the above experiment; and from these the resulting weight of a cubical foot is easily corrected to the standard of 28 inches and 10°, as directed in the preceding section. The small portion of air remaining in the balloon after forming the vacuum must likewise be attended to, which is easily determined by the barometer attached to the air-pump. If that barometer, for instance, remains at the hundredth part of the height it stood at before the vacuum was formed, we conclude that one hundredth part of the air originally contained remained in the balloon, and consequently that only 99/100 of gas was introduced from the jar into the balloon.

58 According to the proportion of 114 to 107, given between the French and English foot, 28 inches of the French barometer are equal to 29.83 inches of the English. Directions will be found in the appendix for converting all the French weights and measures used in this work into corresponding English denominations. — E.

59 When Fahrenheit's thermometer is employed, the dilatation by each degree must be smaller, in the proportion of 1 to 2.25, because each degree of Reaumur's scale contains 2.25 degrees of Fahrenheit; hence we must divide by 472.5, and finish the rest of the calculation as above. — E.


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