Friday, 16 October 2009

An Inquiry Into the Nature of the Simple Bodies of Chemistry

We are told the air we breathe is 79% nitrogen and 20% oxygen, with the other 1% made up with the noble gases. The classic classroom experiment which apparently proves this is one where a burning candle stands in a dish of water. A glass shade is placed over the candle and the flame is extinguished. Condensation of water vapour inside the glass pulls a vacuum (though the idea it pulls a vacuum is a controversial one). The water occupies an area that is about one-fifth of the glass, so we say the oxygen used in the combustion occupied one-fifth of the air. When the air inside the glass is tested it is found to be nitrogen, so we say that the other four-fifths of the air are nitrogen. I'm not so sure.

There are a number of reasons why I don't think the air is made up with 79% nitrogen. First off, we find 79% nitrogen after combustion has taken place. Are we really that sure that there was 79% nitrogen before the combustion?

Secondly, I think the common air is a water vapour. I think water is made up of carbon and oxygen. In this new theory, water has an atomic weight of 22 g/mol. In terms of volume, I imagine elemental water to be made up by two halves - one half carbon, and the other oxygen.

One half of water is carbon weighing in at 6 g/mol, with oxygen making up the rest at 16 g/mol. In water, I think we would see these two halves unite to become one indivisible whole - an element.

I think that the air under the glass before combustion was water vapour with an atomic weight of 22 g/mol, and after the air has been "phlogisticated" by the combustion process , we now find the air is nitrogen gas with an atomic weight of 14 g/mol. It looks like the air has lost 8 g/mol, which is a conspicuous amount because the weight ratio of water is 8:1; 8 parts oxygen to 1 part hydrogen.

I think this important because although the atomic weight of water is given to us as 18, this figure stands for a FULL volume. I think of water as being made up by half volumes with an atomic weight of 9. We may be splitting hairs here, but this could be important in helping us to understand the nature of oxygen. I don't think the density of oxygen in water should be taken simply as 16 g/mol, but rather as being two halves, each with the value of 8 g/mol.

Whether we use the atomic weight of water as 9, or 18, it is important to remember that this figure represents the atomic weight of DECOMPOSED water. According to Priestley, the atomic weight of water is 22, and I think this figure represents LIQUID water. If we apply our reasoning so far that oxygen is made up by two equal parts, then it would mean the same thing for the make up of water. The atomic weight of water is not simply 22 g/mol, but is made up by two parts, each with the atomic weight of 11 g/mol.

Nitrogen is curious in that it looks just like elemental water after it has lost half its weight in oxygen. I think that nitrogen at 14 g/mol, previously existed as elemental water at 22 g/mol, but has then been reduced by losing half its oxygen (8g/mol). In my mind, nitrogen appears as a bloated bag of black water.

This means that nitrogen (14 g/mol) is made up by 6 carbon (6 g/mol) and oxygen (8 g/mol). As a weight ratio (3:4), that's exactly the same for carbon monoxide. What similarities do carbon monoxide and nitrogen share? I wonder why it is that carbon monoxide can be ignited, and nitrogen cannot? What makes it so difficult for nitrogen to be "cracked"?

If I was to summise where we are so far, then it would be the emergence of nitrogen as a water-like compound made out of carbon and oxygen. Strangely enough, this is by no means a new idea.

I found this paper in the National Library of New Zealand. It is headed under the "Transactions and Proceedings of the Royal Society of New Zealand 1868-1961", and the article is entitled "Discovery of Argon". What it says is no doubt fascinating. I'm pretty sure I've read this article before, but only now am I truly aware of its significance. You can find the full article here:

"The compound character of atmospheric nitrogen had, however, long been suggested, and even to some extent demonstrated, by the older chemists, for we find that Berzelius, a contemporary of Davy, satisfied that it was a compound body, was under, the impression that it was associated with an inflammable, base combined with oxygen, for which he proposed the name Nitricon [or possibly Nitricum]. But he is said to have distrusted or abandoned this hypothesis in consequence of experiments made by Davy, who also believed that atmospheric nitrogen was a compound body, of which oxygen formed an element, and endeavoured, but in vain, to detach the latter by means of the vapour of potassium.

Mr. David Low, of Edinburgh, who published an important treatise on the “Simple Bodies of Chemistry,” in 1856, also treated atmospheric nitrogen as a compound substance, and mentioned that, from its known characters, the same opinion had long been entertained, but that, as all attempts to decompose it had failed."

I think the article reveals some of the controversy surrounding the compound nature of nitrogen at the time of its discovery. Looking for more background, I waltzed over to our ever faithful companion Google, and punched in "Simple Bodies of Chemistry". It came up with an article in the "Edinburgh New Philosophical Journal". The article is entitled "On Isomeric Transmutation, and the Views recently published concerning the compound nature of Carbon, Silicon, and Nitrogen." It's dated 1844 and was written by George Wilson, M.D., Lecturer on Chemistry, Edinburgh. You can find it here:

"I propose, in the following Memoir, to offer some observations on the views recently published by Dr Samuel Brown, Mr Knox, and Mr Rigg, concerning the compound nature of silicon, nitrogen, and carbon.

Silicon may be a simple body, as many believe, or a modification of carbon, as Dr Brown supposes, or a compound of carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen, or of carbon and hydrogen, as Mr Low thinks probable.

Water, e.g. is the only body containing oxygen and hydrogen, in the proportion of eight parts by weight of the former to one of the latter ; common salt is the only substance, with thirty-five parts of chlorine to twenty-three of sodium, and so with other compounds."

So it's not just nitrogen which has been accused of being a compound - but silicon aswell! I've tried to not get too hung up on sentences, such as "elemental reduction by mutual isomeric transmutation", because, quite frankly, I don't understand the sentence. I've since learned that the existence of more than one compound with the same molecular composition is called isomerism. I wanted to try and remain focused on the compound nature of nitrogen, but this doesn't seem possible just yet without examining the relationship nitrogen has with silicon, and other elements.

"Dr Brown is the only chemist who has had faith and courage enough to test the reality of Elemental Isomerism, by endeavouring to transmute one of the elements into another. This, he believes, he has succeeded in doing in the case of carbon and silicon.

By a special process, instituted for the purpose, or as a product of a general process for transmutation, he obtained paracyanogen, a body consisting of carbon and nitrogen, in the proportion of twelve parts of the former to fourteen (by weight) of the latter ; or of two atoms of carbon to one of nitrogen. The atomic weight and exact constitution of this body are unknown, but Dr Brown, as we have already seen, supposes it to be a duplication of cyanogen, and, therefore, to contain four atoms of carbon to two of nitrogen. When this body is treated in various ways, of which the simplest, and the only one we need consider, is that of heating it out of contact with air, alone, or in contact with substances (such as platina or carbonate of potass) having a strong attraction for silicon, its two atoms of nitrogen, according to Dr Brown, pass away unchanged, and its four atoms of carbon combine together, and form silicon.

There was one chemist, however Mr G. J. Knox, who not only accepted Dr Brown's statements as true, so far, at least, as the appearance of silicon was concerned, but advocated the probability of such an occurrence ; on grounds, however, quite opposed to those Dr Brown himself built upon.

Mr Knox conceives that the nitrogen of the paracyanogen, and not its carbon, is the source of the silicon which appeared in Dr Brown's experiments.

Mr Knox seems to consider nitrogen a compound of silicon and hydrogen, and to believe that he formed it by the action of muriatic acid on siliciuret of potassium. He does not suppose, however, as some have imagined, that the nitrogen is transmuted into silicon

Dr Brown's processes have not, in my hands, yielded proof of the transmutability of carbon into silicon. I have further come to the conclusion, that they are too imperfect to establish the truth of that proposition in the hands of any one; and that there exists at present no evidence, in the way of demonstration by experiment, to satisfy a chemist, that carbon or any other element has ever suffered transmutation.

According to Dr Brown, an atom of silicon consists of 4 atoms of carbon ; but four times six is 24, not 22.22. If, therefore, transmutation by isomeric synthesis of carbon into silicon occur, it must, according to this view, be accompanied by a destruction of matter equal to the difference between 24 and 22.22."

Now I was a little surprised here because according to the periodic table, the atomic weight of silicon is given as 28 g/mol, and not 22.22 g/mol. I think 22 g/mol is an important value because it just so happens to be the atomic weight of water.

The author goes on to illustrate how it's possible that carbon can be transmuted into silicon, by explaining away a bit of math. This is actually true, the atomic weight of carbon can be an integral multiple of 12. Thus, it appears Wilson is suggesting that carbon is basically a compound structure built out of smaller carbon structures.

"Let the received atomic weight of silicon, 22.22, be diminished by removal of the decimals, and made the round number 22. Such an alteration will, not improbably, be made by chemists, apart from all consideration of the question of transmutation. Then divide the received atom of carbon, 6, by 3, a liberty which would be conceded by many of my brethren, and it becomes 2 ; of which silicon is a multiple by the whole number 11. 11 atoms of carbon might, by synthetic transmutation, become 1 atom = 22 silicon, without any difficulty in the way of atomic weights."

This last bit of reducing the density of silicon by half from 22 to 11, is practically identical to what we did previously with elemental water, where the density of elemental water was reduced from 22 g/mol to two parts, each part with the atomic weight of 11 g/mol.

The next thing to do was google - "An Inquiry into the Nature of the Simple Bodies of Chemistry" - and to see where it got me. It turned up trumps on Googlebooks, with the book written by David Low, and it contains some of the most fascinating pages I have ever had the fortune to read. The pages take you back to a time and place of almost fairy-tale-like innocence, where chemistry was still roaming the garden for the rules it had to play with (though of course, older brother alchemy had been around for a long time previous to this). It gives a powerful insight into how the ideas which form our world were first panel-beaten into shape. But not least, Low is set to reveal something quite remarkable about the Universe around you.

"Not withstanding then, the extreme care which has been employed in determining the constitution of the diamond by combustion, it is just possible that a quantity of hydrogen may exist in combination with carbon, inappreciable by this mode of analysis, and that the diamond really may be classed with the hydro-carbons, which upon the present hypothesis, silicium [silicon] and alumium both are."

I thought diamond was made from pure carbon? Is he suggesting that diamond is made up by both hydrogen and carbon, or that the hydrogen is hidden by the presence of carbon? I think his statement confirms the idea that hydrogen is an empty, or at least virtually empty, form of carbon.

It was here though, that I felt the first bomb being dropped when Low says that both silicon and aluminium are both hydrocarbons. It's not simply nitrogen which is a compound, but also silicon and aluminium. For some this may be too difficult to swallow - but me? I'm all ears.

Then, Low tell us that nitrogen is a compound that resembles the oxide of carbon, and presumably he means carbon monoxide, and not carbon dioxide, because "it does not support combustion, but when ignited burns with a lambent blue flame." He confirms for us that "it is a legitimate conclusion that nitrogen consists of carbon and oxygen". If your world view has been visibly shaking so far, now see the whole thing get turned upside down aswell...

"I have proposed the hypothesis that oxygen may be resolved into two elements of a lower combining weight than itself, hydrogen and carbon... Oxygen consists of 2 parts by weight of hydrogen to 6 parts by weight of carbon."

There you go. BOOM! Oxygen is a hydrocarbon! I've been suspicious of oxygen for a little while now. If oxygen was prime suspect in a murder case, I would be a detective going through its' rubbish bin looking for discarded bloody items. I'm suspicious because hydrogen, under the modern interpretation of phlogiston theory, is supposed to be full of phlogiston. I don't think it is. In previous posts I have suggested hydrogen is empty, and that it lacks phlogiston. Hydrogen appears to me to be the complete opposite of "phlogisticated", which would pretty much make hydrogen a substance that was "dephlogisticated"

BUT dephlogisticated air is supposed to be oxygen, and is supposed to contain no phlogiston, and that is the reason why it is supposed not to burn. What is starting to emerge more and more is oxygen is actually rich in phlogiston. Has there been some kind of mix up at the taps? Is "dephlogisticated air" meant to represent hydrogen, and "inflammable air" oxygen?

"Although we cannot certainly say that oxygen has been decomposed, yet when electric sparks are passed in succession through it, a change ensues, and an odour is evolved, which indicates the formation of some principle or substance to which this odour is due. It has been termed ozone..."

Whenever I think of ozone I instantly think of Tesla. I used to associate ozone with pollution and holes over the Antartic, and people going to work on a bicycle. Now, if ozone is mentioned, I tend to imagine Tesla surrounded in mists of crackling lightning flashes and the peculiar odour of ozone. My mind always engages a link between electricity and ozone.

I was interested to know the atomic weight of ozone. Most places will tell you the weight of ozone is 48, but ozone weighs only 24 times more than hydrogen. I consulted Google once more, and came across a book entitled "Meteorology Practical And Applied", written by John William Moore. In it he writes that "a great number of experiments have given the atomic weight of ozone as 24, and consequently its molecular weight as 48". For arguments sake, I think I'll stick to the atomic weight.

In the article on the "Discovery of Argon", the authour remarks that argon "is supposed to be a tri-atomic form of nitrogen, as ozone is a bi-atomic form of oxygen; and many circumstances already known—for example, its concurrent appearance in nature with nitrogen". Bi-atomic? Text books today tell us ozone is tri-atomic, and that it is made up with three atoms of oxygen. I wonder what would happen if we played around with the idea that ozone was perhaps bi-atomic? The reason I prefer a bi-atomic structure is because of the Fujiwhara effect.

When I try to think of a bi-atomic structure in nature, I think of the Fujiwhara effect. The effect is named after Sakuhei Fujiwhara, the Japanese meteorologist who initially described it in a 1921 paper about the motion of vertices in water. The Fujiwhara effect or Fujiwhara interaction is a type of interaction between two nearby cyclonic vortices, causing them to appear to "orbit" each other. When the cyclones approach each other, their centers will begin orbiting cyclonically about a point between the two systems.

The picture below is of twin hurricanes Ione (left) and Kirsten (right) pinwheeling about the eastern Pacific during the 1974 Pacific hurricane season during a Fujiwhara interaction. This could be dramatically wrong, but at the moment, this is what I imagine a bi-atomic structure as. If the atomic weight of ozone was 24 g/mol, and it was bi-atomic, then ozone could be made up by two oxygen structures both weighing 12 g/mol.

NOAA-3 visible range VHRR image of Hurricanes Ione (left) and Kirsten (right.)

But let us return to the crux of what Low is saying. Low thinks that the oxygen captured in the decomposition of water "consists of 2 parts by weight of hydrogen to 6 parts by weight of carbon". Therefore - in the case of water - one part hydrogen in weight represents the ratio of 3 parts carbon in weight.

"If nitrogen be resolvable into carbon and oxygen, it is likewise, upon the present hypothesis resolvable into hydrogen and carbon; for oxygen upon this hypothesis is resolvable into hydrogen and carbon.

A volume of oxygen gas contains H4C2; a volume of nitrogen gas H2C2.

Nitrogen therefore appears to differ from oxygen, by containing a larger proportion of carbon, the proportion by weight of this element to hydrogen being in nitrogen as 6 to 1, and in oxygen as 3 to 1. Thus the difference between these two bodies, so widely diffused and generally associated, may be ascribed simply to the different ratio in which the constituent elements of each are combined..."

Thus, Low has transformed oxygen and nitrogen into hydrocarbons, and has changed our world forever. Low has used a constant density for carbon as 6 g/mol, even though he accepts the proportions by weight are different for nitrogen (6 to 1) and for oxygen (3 to 1).

Okay, now I want to get my grubby mitts on water and to apply these formulas to it, and see what comes up. The atomic weight of decomposed water is 9; that is, hydrogen with an atomic weight of 1 added to oxygen with an atomic weight of 8. This would give you the formula of H3C2 (the value of carbon here is 3) for a half volume of decomposed water.

If you remember at the start of this post we learned that the atomic weight of liquid water is 11 for a half volume. That is, carbon with an atomic weight of 3 added to oxygen with an atomic weight of 8. This makes the formula for liquid water H2C3 (the value for carbon being 3). Thus, water is a hydrocarbon, and a half volume has the formula H2C3, and the atomic weight of 11. Therefore, a full volume of liquid water has the atomic weight of 22 g/mol, and the formula H4C6 (C=3), or H4C3 (if C=6).

This is wonderful as we can now compare the formula for decomposed water (H3C2) with the formula for composed water (H2C3), and it becomes very apparent about what it is that differs between them. It looks like the hydrogen from decomposed water is transformed into carbon in the composition of liquid water, and if the reaction is reversed, carbon from composed water is exchanged for hydrogen in the decomposition of water.

If that wasn't enough, what Low has to say in the following two paragraphs was enough to blow my boots off:

"If carbonic acid consist of the same elements as nitrogen, namely CO + O, it is not an extravagant hypothesis that some provision exists for resolving carbonic acid into the elements of which the atmosphere consists, namely nitrogen and oxygen.

For carbonic acid is continually ascending from the Earth into the atmosphere..... and therefore it is not an extravagant supposition, that a natural provision has existed, and does exist, for converting carbonic acid into the essential constituents of the existing atmosphere."

And quite right. A mechanism must exist in nature that converts carbon dioxide back into the breathable atmosphere. I don't think that the atmosphere is strictly nitrogen and oxygen though. I think the atmosphere is a water vapour which, in theory, is made up by nitrogen and oxygen. In summary, I think something in the atmosphere is converting carbon dioxide into water. Is it possible that ozone plays an important role in this conversion?

I think nitrogen (14 g/mol) is elemental water (22 g/mol) with half its volume of oxygen (8 g/mol) missing. Therefore, combining nitrogen with another half volume of oxygen should give you water. In terms of formula, nitrogen is written as H2C2 (C=6), and a full volume of water is H4C3 (C=6). A half volume of oxygen is written as H2C (C=6). If we add the nitrogen (H2C2) to the oxygen (H2C), the formula for water (H4C3) is exactly what we get!

Unfortunately, the copy I have found of Low's book has a number of chapters missing. I do however, get a real sense of the isomeric relationships which he reveals between "elements". It was Lavoisier who overthrew the phlogiston theory and established the concept of elements as substances which cannot be further decomposed. As I have come to trust the ideas of Lavoisier less and less, I also find that I lack the ability to trust the idea of indivisible elements. The entire periodic table no longer appears as a series of very distinct substances, but rather as a list of hydrocarbonic compounds which differ due to density.

What remains for me to end this post are Low's thoughts on silicium (silicon). There's no doubt he finds an intense similarity between silicon and aluminium. He writes that "the combining weight of aluminum is 14, or a multiple of that of silicium; and that accordingly, the two bodies are isomeric."

Low continues to say that "if we were to admit the equivalent of silicium to be 7, or a multiple of 7, then silicium might be represented by HC, or a multiple of HC." The atomic weight of silicon is listed as 28 - a multiple of 7. I am struck by the significance of the simplicity of the formula for silicon. If one was looking for a simple building block of creation, then I think silicon could be a possible contender. Low appears to confirm this with his next paragraph:

"If, in any former state of the globe [our planet], the aqueous portion predominated, as there is reason to believe it did, over the solid, we might perhaps believe, that one of the means of diminishing the volume of water, has the combination of its hydrogen with the molecules of carbon to form silicium, and of its oxygen with the silicium generated to form silica; for HO + C = HC + O, ex hypothesi, silica."

Silica, of course is sand. It seems quite strange to think of sand as being the direct result of a reaction between carbon and water. Low is describing the transformation of water into sand, and if I'm understanding theory so far, the possibility that sand can be turned into water. Rather poetically, the front cover of Low's book is furnished with a photograph of sand-dunes in a desert somewhere, like an oasis waiting to be discovered.

I also like that Low calls carbon "the primary element". I think carbon is another name for phlogiston, and I think phlogiston is extremely close to the very substance of the Universe itself - the aether. Thanks to David Low and his book, we now have the means to explore, in formula, exactly how the Universal substance creates the substance of the Universe.

Many thanks:

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