The Fairy-Land of Science eBook

This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 185 pages of information about The Fairy-Land of Science.

The particles of nearly all substances, when left free and not hurried, can build themselves into crystal forms.  If you melt salt in water and then let all the water evaporate slowly, you will get salt-crystals; —­ beautiful cubes of transparent salt all built on the same pattern.  The same is true of sugar; and if you will look at the spikes of an ordinary stick of sugar-candy, such as I have here, you will see the kind of crystals which sugar forms.  You may even pick out such shapes as these from the common crystallized brown sugar in the sugar basin, or see them with a magnifying glass on a lump of white sugar.

But it is not only easily melted substances such as sugar and salt which form crystals.  The beautiful stalactite grottos are all made of crystals of lime.  Diamonds are crystals of carbon, made inside the earth.  Rock-crystals, which you know probably under the name of Irish diamonds, are crystallized quartz; and so, with slightly different colourings, are agates, opals, jasper, onyx, cairngorms, and many other precious stones.  Iron, copper, gold, and sulphur, when melted and cooled slowly build themselves into crystals, each of their own peculiar form, and we see that there is here a wonderful order, such as we should never have dreamt of, if we had not proved it.  If you possess a microscope you may watch the growth of crystals yourself by melting some common powdered nitre in a little water till you find that no more will melt in it.  Then put a few drops of this water on a warm glass slide and place it under the microscope.  As the drops dry you will see the long transparent needles of nitre forming on the glass, and notice how regularly these crystals grow, not by taking food inside like living beings, but by adding particle to particle on the outside evenly and regularly.

Week 12

Can we form any idea why the crystals build themselves up so systematically?  Dr. Tyndall says we can, and I hope by the help of these small bar magnets to show you how he explains it.  These little pieces of steel, which I hope you can see lying on this white cardboard, have been rubbed along a magnet until they have become magnets themselves, and I can attract and lift up a needle with any one of them.  But if I try to lift one bar with another, I can only do it by bringing certain ends together.  I have tied a piece of red cotton (c, Fig. 21) round one end of each of the magnets, and if I bring two red ends together they will not cling together but roll apart.  If, on the contrary, I put a red end against an end where there is not cotton, then the two bars cling together.  This is because every magnet has two poles or points which are exactly opposite in character, and to distinguish them one is called the positive pole and the other the negative pole.  Now when I bring two red ends, that is, two positive poles together, they drive each other away.  See! the magnet I am not holding runs away from the other. 

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The Fairy-Land of Science from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.
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