Certain experiments by Professors Elster and Geitel, however, are not favourable to this point of view. If an active body be surrounded by a radioactive envelope, a screen should prevent this body from receiving any impression from outside, and yet there is no diminution apparent in the activity presented by a certain quantity of radium when it is lowered to a depth of 800 metres under ground, in a region containing a notable quantity of pitchblende. These negative results are, on the other hand, so many successes for the partisans of the explanation of radioactivity by atomic energy.
THE ETHER AND MATTER
Sec. 1. THE RELATIONS BETWEEN THE ETHER AND MATTER
For some time past it has been the more or less avowed ambition of physicists to construct with the particles of ether all possible forms of corporeal existence; but our knowledge of the inmost nature of things has hitherto seemed too limited for us to attempt such an enterprise with any chance of success. The electronic hypothesis, however, which has furnished a satisfactory image of the most curious phenomena produced in the bosom of matter, has also led to a more complete electromagnetic theory of the ether than that of Maxwell, and this twofold result has given birth to the hope of arriving by means of this hypothesis at a complete co-ordination of the physical world.
The phenomena whose study may bring us to the very threshold of the problem, are those in which the connections between matter and the ether appear clearly and in a relatively simple manner. Thus in the phenomena of emission, ponderable matter is seen to give birth to waves which are transmitted by the ether, and by the phenomena of absorption it is proved that these waves disappear and excite modifications in the interior of the material bodies which receive them. We here catch in operation actual reciprocal actions and reactions between the ether and matter. If we could thoroughly comprehend these actions, we should no doubt be in a position to fill up the gap which separates the two regions separately conquered by physical science.
In recent years numerous researches have supplied valuable materials which ought to be utilized by those endeavouring to construct a theory of radiation. We are, perhaps, still ill informed as to the phenomena of luminescence in which undulations are produced in a complex manner, as in the case of a stick of moist phosphorus which is luminescent in the dark, or in that of a fluorescent screen. But we are very well acquainted with emission or absorption by incandescence, where the only transformation is that of calorific into radiating energy, or vice versa. It is in this case alone that can be correctly applied the celebrated demonstration by which Kirchhoff established, by considerations borrowed from thermodynamics, the proportional relations between the power of emission and that of absorption.