On Supersaturated Solutions

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IN a paper communicated to the Royal Society last May I described some experiments to show that the open air and the air of ordinary rooms do not generally contain crystals of the various salts which form supersaturated solutions. It has been remarked to me that I did not give the strength of the solutions, so that doubt might arise as to whether the results would hold good for very strong solutions:— The following experiments set that question at rest. I made a very strong solution of sodium sulphate which threw down abundance of anhydrous salt on boiling. When cold a good half inch of anhydrous salt remained at the bottom of the test-tube. Took this into my garden, which is near Bristol. Took up some of the solution in a clean pipette and put drops on the leaves of peonies, which were very dusty, on geraniums, on moss, on the stone coping of Bath oolite, and on the painted woodwork of the railings and garden door. Not a single drop crystallised. Made a drop set quite solid by dropping in earth with the fingers. N.B.—I had been at work with the salt for some time and crystals were probably adhering to my finger. Earth not touched inactive. The drops sank into the moss slowly, remaining quite liquid. Those on the stone were soon absorbed and dried up on the surface; fresh drops put on these remained liquid. Smeared a drop repeatedly with the finger which had been cleansed; inactive, as fresh drops remained liquid on it. Drop on flower-pot, inactive, smeared with finger; when dry inactive to fresh drops. These and other drops on the flower-pot slowly formed a film of 7-atom salt. Stirred the solution with a dry twig picked off the ground, inactive. The drops on the leaves all slowly evaporated, giving the 7-atom salt. Finally, made some of the drops and the original solution crystallise, to prove that they were really supersaturated. These experiments were made both in sun and shade. Weather dry. The test-tube was left open the whole time.

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GRENFELL, J. On Supersaturated Solutions. Nature 15, 138 (1876) doi:10.1038/015138b0

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