Happy Birthday "Radiant Matter"
August 22, 2009 this week will
mark the 130th anniversary of the
identification of "radiant matter"
or "plasma" as the fourth state of
matter in 1879, by English
scientist, Sir William Crookes,
Sixty years earlier,
Michael Faraday had postulated
"radiant matter" as "purely
hypothetical". On 17 January 1816,
Faraday delivered a series of
lectures to the City Philosophical
Society, one of which was titled
"If now we conceive a change as far
beyond vaporisation as that is above
fluidity, and then take into account
also the proportional increased
extent of alteration as the changes
rise, we shall perhaps, if we can
form any conception at all, not fall
far short of radiant matter"
By 1819 Faraday considered:
"Matter classed into four states
solid, liquid, gaseous, and radiant
which depend upon differences in the
essential properties. [..] I have
purposely avoided mentioning the
radiant state of matter, because,
[it is] purely hypothetical.."
On Friday August 22, 1879, Crookes
delivered a lecture titled "On
Radiant Matter", to the British
Association for the Advancement of
Science in Sheffield, England.
"To throw light on the title of this
lecture I must go back more than
sixty years to 1816. Faraday, then a
mere student and ardent
experimentalist, was 24 years old,
and at this early period of his
career he delivered a series of
lectures on the General Properties
of Matter, and one of them bore the
remarkable title, On Radiant Matter.
"[..] the experimental results are
obtainable to which [are] so
distinct are these phenomena from
anything which occurs in air or gas
at the ordinary tension, that we are
led to assume that we are here
brought face to face with Matter in
a Fourth state or condition, a
condition as far removed from the
state of gas as a gas is from a
"[..] they assume properties so
novel and so characteristic as to
entirely justify the application of
the term borrowed from Faraday, that
of Radiant Matter."
Among other properties, Crookes
"Radiant Matter is deflected by a
Magnet" and "If the streams of
Radiant Matter carry an electric
current they will act like two
parallel conducting wires and
attract one another ; but if they
are simply built up of negatively
electrified molecules they will
repel each other."
It was nearly 50 years later, in
August 1928, that Irving Langmuir
coined the term "plasma".
Contributed by Ian
The life and letters
of Faraday (1870)
Jones, Henry Bence, 1814-1873
On radiant matter: a
lecture delivered to the British
Association for the Advancement of
Science, at Sheffield, Friday,
August 22, 1879.
Crookes, William, Sir, 1832-1919
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