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Tuesday, February 27, 2007


I think, however, that in the case of an electrode immersed in a fluid insulating medium, and surrounded by
independent carriers of electric charges, which can be acted upon inductively, a sufficiently high frequency of the
impulses would probably result in a gravitation of the gas all around toward the electrode. For this it would be only
necessary to assume that the independent bodies are irregularly shaped; they would then turn toward the electrode
their side of the greatest electric density, and this would be a position in which the fluid resistance to approach
would be smaller than that offered to the receding. The general opinion, I do not doubt, is that it is out of the
question to reach any such frequencies as might--assuming some of the views before expressed to be true--
produce any of the results which I have pointed out as mere possibilities. This may be so, but in the course of these
investigations, from the observation of many phenomena I have gained the conviction that these frequencies would
be much lower than one is apt to estimate at first. In a flame we set up light vibrations by causing molecules, or
atoms, to collide.
But what is the ratio of the frequency of the collisions and that of the vibrations set up? Certainly it must be incom-
parably smaller than that of the knocks of the bell and the sound vibrations, or that of the discharges and the oscilla-
tions of the condenser. We may cause the molecules of the gas to collide by the use of alternate electric impulses of
high frequency, and so we may imitate the process in a flame ; and from experiments with frequencies which we
are now able to obtain, I think that the result is producible with impulses which are transmissible through a con-
In connection with thoughts of a similar nature, it appeared to me of great interest to demonstrate the rigidity of a
vibrating gaseous column. Although with such low frequencies as, say 10,000 per second, which I was able to
obtain without difficulty from a specially constructed alternator, the task looked discouraging at first, I made a
series of experiments. The trials with air at ordinary pressure led to no result, but with air moderately rarefied I
obtain what I think to be an unmistakable experimental evidence of the property sought for. As a result of this kind
might lead able investigators to conclusions of importance I will describe one of the experiments performed.
It is well known that when a tube is slightly exhausted the discharge may be passed through it in the form of a thin
luminous thread. When produced with currents of low frequency, obtained from a coil operated as usual, this thread
is inert. If a magnet be approached to it, the part near the same is attracted or repelled, according to the direction of
the lines of force of the magnet. It occurred to me that if such a thread would be produced with currents of very
high frequency, it should be more or less rigid, and as it was visible it could be easily studied. Accordingly I
prepared a tube about 1 inch in diameter and 1 metre long, with outside coating at each end. The tube was
exhausted to a point at which by a little working the thread discharge could be obtained. It must be remarked here
that the general aspect of the tube, and the degree of exhaustion, are quite different than when ordinary low fre-
quency currents are used. As it was found preferable to work with one terminal, the tube prepared was suspended
from the end of a wire connected to the terminal, the tinfoil coating being connected to the wire, and to the lower
coating sometimes- a small insulated plate was attached. When the thread was formed it extended through the
upper part of the tube and lost itself in the lower end. If it possessed rigidity it resembled, not exactly an elastic
cord stretched tight between two supports, but a cord suspended from a height with a small weight attached at the
end. When the finger or a magnet was approached to the upper end of the luminous thread, it could be brought
locally out of position by electrostatic or magnetic action; and when the disturbing object was very quickly
removed, an analogous result was produced, as though a suspended cord would be displaced and quickly released
near the point of suspension. In doing this the luminous thread was set in vibration, and two very sharply marked
nodes, and a third indistinct one, were formed. The vibration, once set up, continued for fully eight minutes, dying
gradually out. The speed of the vibration
often varied perceptibly, and it could be observed that the electrostatic attraction of the glass affected the vibrating
thread; but it was clear that the electrostatic action was not the cause of the vibration, for the thread was most
generally stationary, and could always be set in vibration by passing the finger quickly near the upper part of the
tube. With a magnet the thread could be split in two and both parts vibrated. By approaching the hand to the lower
coating of the tube, or insulated plate if attached, the vibration was quickened; also, as far as I could see, by raising
the potential or frequency. Thus, either increasing the frequency or passing a stronger discharge of the same
frequency corresponded to a tightening of the cord. I did not obtain any experimental evidence with condenser
discharges. A luminous band excited in a bulb by repeated discharges of a Leyden jar must possess rigidity, and if
deformed and suddenly released should vibrate. But probably the amount of vibrating matter is so small that in
spite of the extreme speed the inertia cannot prominently assert itself. Besides, the observation in such a case is
rendered extremely difficult on account of the fundamental vibration.
The demonstration of the fact--which still needs better experimental confirmation--that a vibrating gaseous col-
umn possesses rigidity, might greatly modify the views of thinkers. When with low frequencies and insignificant

potentials indications of that property may be noted, how must a gaseous medium behave under the influence of
enormous electrostatic stresses which may be active in the interstellar space, and which may alternate with
inconceivable rapidity? The existence of such an electrostatic, rhythmically throbbing force--of a vibrating
electrostatic field-would show a possible way how solids might have formed from the ultra-gaseous uterus, and
how transverse and all kinds of vibrations may be transmitted through a gaseous medium filling all space. Then,
ether might be a true fluid, devoid of rigidity, and at rest, it being merely necessary as a connecting link to enable
interaction. What determines the rigidity of a body? It must be the speed and the amount of moving matter. In a gas
the speed may be considerable, but the density is exceedingly small; in a liquid the speed would be likely to be
small, though the density may be considerable ; and in both cases the inertia resistance offered to displacement is
practically nil. But place a gaseous (or liquid) column in an intense, rapidly alternating electrostatic field, set the
particles vibrating with enormous speeds, then the inertia resistance asserts itself. A body might move with more or
less freedom through the vibrating mass, but as a whole it would be rigid.
There is a subject which I must mention in connection with these experiments: it is that of high vacua. This is a
subject the study of which is not only interesting, but useful, for it may lead to results of great practical importance.
In commercial apparatus, such as incandescent lamps, operated from ordinary systems of distribution, a much
higher vacuum than obtained at present would not secure a very great advantage. In such a case the work is
performed on the filament and the gas is little concerned; the improvement, therefore, would be but trifling. But
when we begin to use very high frequencies and potentials, the action of the gas becomes all important, and the
degree of exhaustion materially modifies the results. As long as ordinary coils, even very large ones, were used, the
study of the subject was limited, because just at a point when it became most interesting it had to be interrupted on
account of the "non-striking" vacuum being reached. But presently we are able to obtain from a small, disruptive
discharge coil potentials much higher than even the largest coil was capable of giving, and, what is more, we can
make the potential alternate with great rapidity. Both of these results enable us now to pass a luminous discharge
through almost any vacua obtainable, and the field of our investigations is greatly extended. Think we as we may,
of all the possible directions to develop a practical illuminant, the line of high vacua seems to be the most
promising at present. But to reach extreme vacua the appliances must be much more improved, and ultimate
perfection will not be attained until we shall have discarded the mechanical and perfected an electrical vacuum
pump. Molecules and atoms can be thrown out of a bulb under the action of an enormous potential: this will be the
principle of the vacuum pump of the future. For the present, we must secure the best results we can with
mechanical appliances. In this respect, it might not be out of the way to say a few words about the method of, and
apparatus for, producing excessively high degrees of exhaustion of which I have availed myself m the course of
these investigations. It is very probable that other experimenters have used similar arrangements; but as it is
possible that there may be an item or interest in their description, a few remarks, which will render this
investigation more complete, might be permitted.

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