Text Physical Experimentation in the 18th and early 19th Centuries

1.10.1 Read the text, translate it and choose the best ending to the sentences:

a) Newton’s book Opticks…

· showed him to be a prominent experimenter;

· led to new important discoveries;

b) In the 18th century the experiments in different feilds of science…

· were not clearly understood;

· were rather mixed to each other;

c) Soon the experimentation tradition…

· led to the development of new kinds of research laboratories;

· caused some new types of apparatus and instruments to appear;

d) In the early years of the 19th century analytical methods of rational mechanics began to be applied to experimental phenomena…

· mostly due to Joseph Fourier;

· thanks to Thomas Young and Michael Faraday.

At the same time, the experimental tradition established by Galileo and his followers persisted. The Royal Society and the French Academy of Sciences were major centers for the performance and reporting of experimental work, and Newton was himself an influential experimenter, particularly in the field of optics, where he was recognized for his prism experiments dividing white light into its constituent spectrum of colors, as published in his 1704 book Opticks (which also advocated a particulate interpretation of light). Experiments in mechanics, optics, magnetism, static electricity, chemistry, and physiology were not clearly distinguished from each other during the 18th century, but significant differences in explanatory schemes and, thus, experiment design were emerging. Chemical experimenters, for instance, defied attempts to enforce a scheme of abstract Newtonian forces onto chemical affiliations, and instead focused on the isolation and classification of chemical substances and reactions.

Nevertheless, the separate fields remained tied together, most clearly through the theories of weightless “imponderable fluids", such as heat (“caloric”), electricity, and phlogiston (which was rapidly overthrown as a concept following Lavoisier’s identification of oxygen gas late in the century). Assuming that these concepts were real fluids, their flow could be traced through a mechanical apparatus or chemical reactions. This tradition of experimentation led to the development of new kinds of experimental apparatus, such as the Leyden Jar and the Voltaic Pile; and new kinds of measuring instruments, such as the calorimeter, and improved versions of old ones, such as the thermometer. Experiments also produced new concepts, such as the University of Glasgow experimenter Joseph Black’s notion of latent heat and Philadelphia intellectual Benjamin Franklin’s characterization of electrical fluid as flowing between places of excess and deficit (a concept later reinterpreted in terms of positive and negative charges).

While it was recognized early in the 18th century that finding absolute theories of electrostatic and magnetic force akin to Newton’s principles of motion would be an important achievement, none were forthcoming.

This impossibility only slowly disappeared as experimental practice became more widespread and more refined in the early years of the 19th century in places such as the newly-established Royal Institution in London, where John Dalton argued for an atomistic interpretation of chemistry, Thomas Young argued for the interpretation of light as a wave, and Michael Faraday established the phenomenon of electromagnetic induction.