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Electrical Engineer, The
January 25th, 1893

Alternate Currents of High Potential and High Frequency — III


AltOne of the most interesting results arrived at in pursuing these experiments, is the demonstration of the fact that a gaseous medium, upon which vibration is impressed by rapid changes of electrostatic potential, is rigid. In illustration of this result an experiment may be cited: A glass tube about 1 inch in diameter and 3 feet long, with outside condenser coatings on the ends, was exhausted to a certain point, when, the tube being suspended freely from a wire connecting the upper coating to one of the terminals of the coil, the discharge appeared in the form of a luminous thread, passing through the axis of the tube. Usually the thread was sharply defined in the upper part of the tube and lost itself in the lower part. When a magnet or the finger was quickly passed near the upper part of the luminous thread, it was brought out of position by magnetic or electrostatic influence, and a transversal vibration like that of a suspended cord, with one or more distinct nodes, was set up, which lasted for a few minutes and gradually died out. By suspending to the lower condenser coating metal plates of different sizes, the speed of the vibration was varied. This vibration would seem to show beyond doubt that the thread possessed rigidity, at least to transversal displacements.

Many experiments were tried to demonstrate this property in air at ordinary pressure. Though no positive evidence has been obtained, it is thought nevertheless, that a high frequency brush or streamer, if the frequency could be pushed far enough, would be decidedly rigid. A small sphere might then be moved within it quite freely, but if thrown against it the sphere would rebound. An ordinary flame cannot possess rigidity to a marked degree because the vibration is directionless; but an electric arc, it is believed, must possess that property more or less. A luminous band excited in a bulb by repeated discharges of a Leyden jar must also possess rigidity, and if deformed and suddenly released should vibrate.

From like considerations other conclusions of interest may be made. The most probable medium filling the space is one consisting of independent carriers immersed in an insulating fluid. If through this medium enormous electrostatic stresses are assumed to act, which vary rapidly in intensity, it would allow the motion of a body through it, yet it would be rigid and elastic, although the fluid itself might be devoid of these properties. Furthermore, on the assumption that the independent carriers are of any configuration such that the fluid resistance to motion in one direction is greater than in another, a stress of that nature would cause the carriers to arrange themselves in groups, since they would turn to each other their sides of the greatest electric density, in which position the fluid resistance to approach would be smaller than to receding. If in a medium of the above characteristics a brush would be formed by a steady potential, an exchange of the carriers would go on continually, and there would be less carriers per unit of volume in the brush than in the space at some distance from the electrode, this corresponding to rarefaction. If the potential were rapidly changing, the result would be very different; the higher the frequency of the pulses, the slower would be the exchange of the carriers; finally, the motion of translation through measurable space would cease, and, with a sufficiently high frequency and intensity of the stress, the carriers would be drawn towards the electrode, and compression would result.

An interesting feature of these high frequency currents is that they allow to operate all kinds of devices by connecting the device with only one leading wire to the source. In fact, under certain conditions it may be more economical to supply the electrical energy with one lead than with two.

An experiment of special interest is the running, by the use of only one insulated line, of a motor operating on the principle of the rotating magnetic field enunciated by the author a few years ago. A simple form of such a motor is obtained by winding upon a laminated iron core a primary and close to it a secondary coil, closing the ends of the latter and placing a freely movable metal disc within the influence of the moving field. The secondary coil may, however, be omitted. When one of the ends of the primary coil of the motor is connected to one of the terminals of the high-frequency coil and the other end to an insulated metal plate, which, it should be stated, is not absolutely necessary for the success of the experiment, the disc is set in rotation.

Experiments of this kind seem to bring it within the reach of possibility to operate a motor at any point of the earth’s surface from a central source, without any connection to the same except through the earth. If, by means of powerful machinery, rapid variations of the earth’s potential were produced a grounded wire reaching up to some height would be traversed by a current which could be increased by connecting the free end of the wire to a body of some size. The current might be converted to low tension and used to operate a motor or other device. The experiment, which would be one of great scientific interest, would probably best succeed on a ship at sea. In this manner, even if it were not possible to operate machinery, intelligence might be transmitted quite certainly.

In the course of this experimental study special attention was devoted to the heating effects produced by these currents, which are not only striking, but open up the possibility of producing a more efficient illuminant. It it sufficient to attach to the coil terminal a thin wire or filament, to have the temperature of the latter perceptibly raised. If the wire or filament be inclosed in a bulb, the heating effect is increased by preventing the circulation of the air. If the air in the bulb be strongly compressed, the displacements are smaller, the impacts less violent, and the heating effect is diminished. On the contrary, if the air in the bulb be exhausted, an inclosed lamp filament is brought to incandescence, and any amount of light may thus be produced.

The heating of the inclosed lamp filament depends on so many things of a different nature, that it is difficult to give a generally applicable rule under which the maximum heating occurs. As regards the size of the bulb, it is ascertained that at ordinary or only slightly differing atmospheric pressures, when air is a good insulator, the filament is heated more in a small bulb, because of the better confinement of heat in this case. At lower pressures, when air becomes conducting, the heating effect is greater in a large bulb, but at excessively high degrees of exhaustion there seems to be, beyond a certain and rather small size of the vessel, no perceptible difference in the heating.

The shape of the vessel is also of some importance, and it has been found of advantage for reasons of economy to employ a spherical bulb with the electrode mounted in its centre, where the rebounding molecules collide. It is desirable on account of economy that all the energy supplied to the bulb from the source should reach without loss the body to be heated. The loss in conveying the energy from the source to the body may be reduced by employing thin wires heavily coated with insulation, and by the use of electrostatic screens. It is to be remarked, that the screen cannot be connected to the ground as under ordinary conditions.

In the bulb itself a large portion of the energy supplied may be lost by molecular bombardment against the wire connecting the body to be heated with the source. Considerable improvement was effected by covering the glass stem containing the wire with a closely fitting conducting tube. This tube is made to project a little above the glass, and prevents the cracking of the latter near the heated body. The effectiveness of the conducting tube is limited to very high degrees of exhaustion. It diminishes the energy lost in bombardment for two reasons: First, the charge given up by the atoms spreads over a greater area, and hence the electric density at any point is small, and the atoms are repelled with less energy than if they would strike against a good insulator; secondly, as the tube is electrified by the atoms which first come in contact with it, the progress of the following atoms against the tube is more or less checked by the repulsion which the electrified tube must exert upon the similarly electrified atoms. This, it is thought, explains why the discharge through a bulb is established with much greater facility when an insulator than when a conductor is present.

During the investigations great many bulbs of different construction, with the electrodes of different material, were experimented upon, and a number of observations of interest were made. It was found that the deterioration of the electrode is the less, the higher the frequency. This was to be expected, as then the heating is effected by many small impacts, instead of by fewer and more violent ones, which quickly shatter the structure. The deterioration is also smaller when the vibration is harmonic. Thus an electrode, maintained at a certain degree of heat, lasts much longer with currents obtained from an alternator, than with those obtained by means of a disruptive discharge. One of the most durable electrodes was obtained from strongly compressed carborundum, which is a kind of carbon recently produced by Mr. E. G. Acheson. From experience, it is inferred, that to be most durable, the electrode should be in the form of a sphere with a highly polished surface.

In some bulbs refractory bodies were mounted in a carbon cup and pushed under the molecular impact. It was observed in such experiments that the carbon cup was heated at first, until a higher temperature was reached; then most of the bombardment was directed against the refractory body, and the carbon was relieved. In general, when different bodies were mounted in the bulb, the hardest fusible would be relieved, and would remain at a considerably lower temperature. This was necessitated by the fact that most of the energy supplied would find its way through the body which was easier fused or “evaporated.” Curiously enough it appeared in some of the experiments made, that a body was fused in a bulb under the molecular impact by evolution of less light than when fused by the application of heat in ordinary ways. This may be ascribed to a loosening of the structure of the body under the violent impacts and changing stresses.

Some experiments seem to indicate that under certain conditions a body, conducting, or non-conducting, may, when bombarded, emit light, which to all appearance is due to phosphorescence, but may in reality be caused by the incandescence of an infinitesimal layer, the mean temperature of the body being comparatively small. Such might be the case if each single rythmical impact were capable of instantaneously exciting the retina, and the rythm just high enough to cause a continuous impression in the eye. According to this view, a coil operated by disruptive discharge would be eminently adapted to produce such a result, and it is found by experiment that its power of exciting phosphorescence is extraordinarily great. It is capable of exciting phosphorescence at comparatively low degrees of exhaustion, and also projects shadows at pressures far greater than those at which the mean free path is comparable to the dimensions of the vessel. The latter observation is of some importance, inasmuch as it may modify the generally accepted views in regard to the “radiant state” phenomena.

A thought, which early and naturally suggested itself, was to utilize the great inductive effects of high frequency currents to produce light in a sealed glass vessel without the use of leading-in wires. Accordingly, many bulbs were constructed in which the energy necessary to maintain a button or filament at high incandescence, was supplied through the glass either by electrostatic or electrodynamic induction. It was likewise easy to regulate the intensity of the light emitted by means of an externally applied condenser coating connected to an insulated plate, or simply by means of a plate attached to the bulb which at the same time performed the function of a shade.

A subject of experiment, which has been exhaustively treated by Prof. J. J. Thomson, has been followed up independently by the author from the beginning of this study, namely, to excite by electrodynamic induction a luminous band in a closed tube or bulb. In observing the behavior of gases, and the luminous phenomena obtained, the importance of the electrostatic effects was noted and it appeared desirable to produce enormous potential differences, alternating with extreme rapidity. Experiments in this direction led to some of the most interesting results arrived at in the course of these investigations. It was found that by rapid alternations of a high electrostatic potential, exhausted tubes could be lighted at considerable distance from a conductor connected to a properly constructed coil, and that it was practicable to establish with the coil an alternating electrostatic field, acting through the whole extent of a room and lighting a tube, wherever it was placed in the same. Phosphorescent bulbs may be excited in such a field, and it is easy to regulate the effect by connecting to the bulb a small insulated metal plate. It was likewise possible to maintain a filament or button mounted in a tube at bright incandescence, and in one experiment, a mica vane was spun by the incandescence of a platinum wire.

It is hoped that the study of these phenomena, and the perfection of the means for obtaining rapidly alternating high potentials, will lead to the production of an efficient illuminant.


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