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Mikhail Vasilyevich Lomonosov – An Attempt at a Theory of the Elastic Force of Air – Gas, atoms and the repulsive forces



Type of spiritual experience


Lomonosov was always interested in explanations of physical phenomena in terms of his corpuscular theory, and though most of his early work had a more strictly chemical character, he never failed to note the physicochemical implications of his theories. Thus, when in 1748 he was planning his essay on the nature of niter, he ascribed the explosive power of this salt to the presence of large amounts of air in its pores, and so he was led to a consideration of the elastic power of air. The results of his thinking were presented to the Academy of Sciences on September 2, 1748, and were published in the group of his papers which appeared in 1750. His Latin manuscript "Tentamen theoriae de vi aeris elastica" was published in Novi Commentarii Academiae scientiarum imperialis Petropolitanae, :230-244 (1750). It was translated into Russian by B. N. Menshutkin in 1936. The Latin text and Russian translation were reprinted in Collected Works, II (1951), pp. 105-139, and the Russian translation is given in Selected Works ^ pp. 134-149.

The argument is again long and this sentence provides the conclusion – that all air [gases] consist of atoms that are widely spaced because the repulsive forces separate them, remember this was in 1748.

A description of the experience

Mikhail Vasilyevich Lomonosov - An Attempt at a Theory of the Elastic Force of Air  [from On the Corpuscular Theory]; Translated, with an Introduction, by Henry M. Leicester [Professor of Biochemistry]; Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1970

All this shows very clearly that the force of elasticity of air cannot come from any fluid which separates its particles. And since this force, other conditions being equal, is increased or decreased proportionally to the density of the air material itself, there is no doubt that it is produced by some sort of direct interaction of its atoms......

Having established all this, it remains for us to show how air atoms so react with each other that one atom repels another. No other argument can be presented than the most important property, this same elasticity of air. Namely, as each person knows, when the heat of air increases, its elasticity is more and more strengthened, and when the heat is decreased, it is weakened, so that, other conditions being equal, the greatest elasticity is found with the highest heat known to us, and with the least heat, that is, at the greatest cold examined up to now, elasticity is lowest, according to a constant law.

Hence it is evident that the atoms of air act reciprocally on one another more strongly or more weakly depending on increase or decrease in their degree of heat, so that, if it were possible that heat of the air entirely vanished, then the atoms should be completely lacking in this interaction. Hence it follows that the interaction of atoms of air depends only on heat.

Heat consists of a rotary motion of the particles of the hot body because everything which produces heat causes a rotary motion of the particles of the heated body so that the interaction of the atoms of air depends on their rotary motion................

The atmosphere consists of an infinite number of atoms of air of which the lower repel those which lie above them, as many as all the other atoms piled up on them right to the upper surface of the atmosphere. The further the atoms are from the earth, the less will be the force of the atoms pushing and weighing upon them which they meet in their upward course, so that the upper atoms occupying the very surface of the atmosphere are carried down only by their own weight and being repelled from the next lower ones are then carried upward as long as the impact received from the repulsion exceeds their own weight. But when the latter prevails they again fall down, so that they will be repelled by those found lower. Hence it follows:

 1) that atmospheric air should be rarer, the more it is separated from the center of the earth;

 2) that air cannot be infinitely rarefied, for there should exist a limit where the weight of the upper atoms of air exceeds the force received by them.

The source of the experience

Lomonosov, Mikhail Vasilyevich

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