28 ' BREATH FIGURES [353
maximum edge-angle. With alcohol and petroleum there was no difficulty in reducing the maximum angle to zero. With water on glass the angle could be made small, but increased as time elapsed after cleaning.
As a detergent Quincke employed hot sulphuric acid. A few drops may be poured upon a thin glass plate, which is then strongly heated over a Bunsen burner. When somewhat cooled, the plate may be washed under the tap, rinsed with distilled water, and dried over the Bunsen without any kind of wiping. The parts wetted by the acid then behave much as the track of the blow-pipe flame in Aitken's experiment.
An even better treatment is with hydrofluoric acid, which actually renews the surface of the glass. A few drops of the commercial acid, diluted, say, ten times, may be employed, much as the sulphuric acid, only without heat. The parts so treated condense the breath in large laminse, contrasting strongly with the ordinary deposit.
It must be admitted that some difficulties remain in attributing the behaviour of an ordinary plate to a superficial film of grease. One of these is the comparative permanence of breath figures, which often survive wiping with a cloth. The thought has sometimes occurred to me that the film of grease is not entirely superficial, but penetrates in some degree into the substance of the glass. In bhat case its removal and renewal would not be so easy. We know but little of the properties of matter in thin films, which may differ entirely from those of the same substance in mass. It may be recalled that a film of oil, one or two millionths of a millimetre thick, suffices to stop the movements of camphor on the surface of water, and that much smaller quantities may be rendered evident by optical and other methods.especially to the edges of the track, where presumably the combustion is most intense. It may be protected with celluloid, or other, varnish.