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Chemical Action and the Conservation of Energy


IN NATURE of December 18, 1890 (p. 165), there appears a paper by Mr. Pickering under the above heading, in which some of the errors of thermo-chemists are exposed. As, on account of the well-known experimental skill of Mr. Pickering in thermo-chemistry, there may be some risk that all the positive statements in this paper may be accepted by students as facts, it is, I think, worth pointing out that some of these statements, although given positively as if they were obvious physical laws, are, to say the least, matters of controversy, whilst others are absolutely erroneous. It would seem as though prolonged calorimetrical studies lead the experimenter to regard heat changes as the only factors to be considered in cases of chemical equilibrium, since the same erroneous view of the subject has been taken by Berthelot in his “Law of Maximum Work,” by J. Thomsen in a similar “Law,” and now by Mr. Pickering in this paper. He concludes:— “As a consequence of this, it follows that, in any complex system of atoms, where two or more different arrangements are independently possible, and where the various products remain within the sphere of action, and are capable of further interaction, then those products, the formation of which is attended with the greater evolution of heat, will be formed to the exclusion of the others.”

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HUNTLY, G. Chemical Action and the Conservation of Energy. Nature 43, 246–247 (1891).

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