Skip to main content
BREATH. FIGURES* [Nature, Vol. xc. pp. 436, 437, 1912.]
AT intervals during the past year I have tried a good many experiments in the hope of throwing further light upon the origin of these figures, especially those due to the passage of a small blow-pipe flame, or of hot sulphuric acid, across the surface of a glass plate on which, before treatment, the breath deposits evenly. The even deposit consists of a multitude of small lenses easily seen with a hand magnifier. In the. track of the flame or sulphuric acid the lenses are larger, often passing into flat masses which, on evaporation, show the usual colours of thin plates. When the glass is seen against a dark ground, and is so held that regularly reflected light does not reach the eye, the general surface shows bright, while the track of the flame or acid is by comparison dark or black. It will be convenient thus to speak of the deposit as bright or dark—descriptive words implying no doubtful hypothesis. The question is what difference in the glass surface determines the two kinds of deposit.
In Aitken's view (Proc. Ed. Soc. p. 94, 1893; Nature, June 15, 1911), the flame acts by the deposit of numerous fine particles constituting nuclei of aqueous condensation, and in like manner he attributes the effect of sulphuric (or hydrofluoric) acid to a water-attracting residue remaining in spite of washing. On the other hand, I was disposed to refer the dark deposit to a greater degree of freedom from grease or other water-repelling contamination (Nature, May 25, 1911), supposing that a. clean surface of glass would everywhere attract moisture. It will be seen that the two views are sharply contrasted,
My first experiments were directed to improving the washing after hot sulphuric or hydrofluoric acid. It soon appeared that rinsing and soaking prolonged over twenty-four hours failed to abolish the dark track; but probably Mr Aitken would not regard this as at all conclusive. It was more to the point that dilute sulphuric acid (1/10) left no track, even after perfunctory washing. Rather to my surprise, I found that even strong
....... * See p. 26 of .this volume.e old plates was due to the existence of films upon both sides. A sufficiently opaque glass, e.g. stained with cobalt or copper, may also be employed. After the films have stood some time subsequently to the treatment with acid, they may be rubbed vigorously with a cloth even while wet; but one or two, which probably had been rubbed prematurely, showed scratches.