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THE COMPLEXITY OF ELEMENT
was not the ultimate product of thorium. The point still remains experimentally untested. Isobaric isotopes of the character in question can only at present be distinguished if they are unstable and break up further, but they must be taken into account in any theoretical conception we form of the ultimate structure of matter. The accomplishment of artificial transmutation would reveal them if they existed, and the discovery of any new property, like radioactivity, concerned with the nucleus of the atom rather than its external shell, might also be the means of revealing differences of this character.
On the other hand, the production of isobaric heterotopes is the ordinary consequence of B-ray changes, single or successive. Such heterotopes, possessing different chemical and spectroscopic character but the same atomic weight, have been recently termed isobares by A. W. Stewart (Phil. Mag., 1918, [vi.], 36, 326), who, following Fleck's work on the chemical resemblance, not amounting to non-separability, between quadrivalent uranium and thorium, has drawn a parallel between them and elements existing in more than one state of valency, as, for example, ferrous and ferric iron.
The extent to which the study of radioactive change has enlarged the conception of the chemical element may be summarised by the statement that now we have to take into account in our analysis of matter, not only the heterobaric heterotopes before recognised, but also heterobaric and isobaric isotopes and isobaric heterotopes or isobares.
THE NUCLEAR ATOM.
I have attempted to present the most important facts of radioactive change without introducing any theory or hypothesis at all as to the structure of the atom. I think it important to keep the two matters distinct. Our knowledge of electricity, which in its modern phase may be considered to start from the relatively recent discovery of the electron, is still far too imperfect to enable any complete theory of atomic structure to be formulated. My task would be incomplete, however, if I did not refer briefly to the nuclear atom of Sir Ernest Rutherford, which may be regarded as the logical descendant of the earlier electronic atom of Sir J. J. Thomson. The weakness of the latter was that it took account essentially only of the negative electrons, and its attempt to ascribe the whole mass of 'the atom to these nearly massless particles involved the supposition that a single atom may contain hundreds of thousands of electrons. The actual number is now known to be rather less, as an average, than half the numerical value of the atomic weight. Although unsatisfactory in accounting for the mass of the atom on an electronic basis, it was much more in line with present views in accounting for chemical character and the arrangement of elements in the periodic table. The root idea that the successive elements in the table are distinguished by the increment of one electron in the outermost electronic ring, followed, as period succeeds period, by the completion of this ring and the formation of a new external one, so that members of the same chemical family have similar external ring systems, is still the most probable view yet advanced. In conjunction with the conception of the nucleus and the gradual unravelling of the various series of characteristic X-radiations, both experimentally and by mathematical analysis, it bids fair soon to give a definite concrete picture of the structure of all the different elements (compare L. Vegard, Phil. Mag., 1918, [vi.], 35, 293).
THE ATOMIC NUCLEUS
As regards the deepest region of atomic structure, wherein radioactive phenomena originate, the nuclear atom is the only one proposed that has any direct experimental foundation. It is based on the deflections suffered by the a-particle in its passage through the atoms of matter, on the one hand, as Bragg showed many years ago, on the exceedingly slight deviation of the overwhelming majority of the a-particles, and, on the other, on the subsequently discovered large deviations suffered by a minute proportion. The nuclear atom is a miniature solar system, like most model atoms, the negative electrons occupying the atomic volume by their orbits around a relatively excessively minute central sun or nucleus, wherein the atomic mass is concentrated, and consisting of an integral number of atomic positive charges equal to the atomic number of the element, and the number of electrons in the outer shell. An a-particle is the nucleus of the helium atom, and, unless it passes very near the nucleus of the atom through which it penetrates, its path is practically undeflected. The few that chance to pass close to the exceedingly small but massive central nucleus are swung out of their path like a comet at perihelion, save that the forces at work are regarded as repulsive rather than attractive.
It appears from radioactive change that atomic disintegration occurs always in the central nucleus, both a- and B-particles originating therein. The atomic number of the element is its nett nuclear charge, the difference between the positive and negative charges entering into its constitution. Of ill properties, mass and radioactivity alone depend in the nucleus ; the physical and chemical character sind the spectrum of an element originate in the outer shell. The character of the outer shell is fixed by the nett charge, not at all by the mass or internal constitution of the nucleus, and the integral variation of this charge from 1 to 92 gives the successive places of the periodic table. Expulsion of two Band one a-particle in any order gives an isotope of the original element with atomic weight four units less. Isobaric isotopes resulting in branch changes differ only in the internal structure and stability of the nucleus. The atomic mass is the only nuclear property known before the discovery of radioactivity, and, except as regards this, the whole of physics and chemistry up to the close of the nineteenth century had not penetrated beyond the outer electronic shell of the atom. Even now, mass and radioactivity remain the sole nuclear properties known.
CONCLUSION. Nemesis, swift and complete, has indeed overtaken the most conservative conception in the most conservative of sciences. The first phase robbed the chemical element of its time-honoured title to be considered the ultimate unchanging constituent of matter; but since its changes were spontaneous and beyond the power of science to imitate or influence to the slightest degree, the original conception of Boyle, the practical definition of the element as the limit to which the analysis of matter had been pushed, was left essentially almost unchanged.
The century that began with Dalton and ended with the discoveries of Becquerel and the Curies took the existing practical conception of the chemical element and theorised it almost out of recognition. The element was first atomised, and then the atom was made the central conception of the theory of the ultimate constitution of matter, on which modern chemistry has been reared, and from which its marvellous achievements, both practical, and theoretical, have mainly sprung.
The atom and the
element became synonyms, related as the singular to the plural, and implicit throughout this century was the assumption that all the atoms of any one element are identical with one another in every respect. The only exception is in Sir William Crookes's conception of "meta-elements” as applied to the rare earths. Here the idea was rather that of a gradual and continuous difference among the different atoms of the same element, the properties of the latter being the mean of those of its individual atoms. Modern developments have tended definitely away from rather than towards this view.
The second phase in the development of radioactive change has now negatived each and every one of the conceptions of last century that associated the chemical element with the atom. The atoms of the same chemical element are only chemically alike. Unique chemical and spectroscopic character is the criterion, not of a single kind of atom, but rather of a single type of external atomic shell. Different chemical elements may have the same atomic mass, the same chemical element may have different atomie masses, and, most upsetting of all, the atoms of the same element may be of the same mass and yet be an unresolvable mixture of fundamentally distinct things. Present-day identity may conceal differences for the future of paramount importance when transmutation is practically realised. Then it may be found that the same element, homogeneous in every other respect, may change in definite proportion into two elements as different as lead and gold. The goal that inspires the search for the homogeneous constituents of matter is now known to be, like infinity, approachable rather than attainable. The word homogeneity can in future only be applied, qualified by reference to the experimental methods available for testing it.