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Scientific Ladies - Experiments with Condensed Gases.

Leaving the Plutonists but a small foundation to stand upon

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A report of an experiment demonstrating the greenhouse effect by suffragist and scientist Eunice Newton Foote in 1856, three years before John Tyndall did so in Great Britain.

Scientific Ladies - Experiments with Condensed Gases.

Some have not only entertained, but expressed the mean idea, that women do not possess the strength of mind necessary for scientific investigation. Owing to the nature of woman’s duties, few of them have had the leisure or the opportunities to pursue science experimentally, but those of them who have had the taste and the opportunity to do so, have shown as much power and ability to investigate and observe correctly as men.

We have Miss Mitchell, who has been awarded the King of Denmark’s prize medal for her discoveries in astronomy; and there is Mrs. Somerville, of London, whose work on physical geography is one of the finest contributions to physical science ever published. So highly gifted is this lady, and so profoundly versed in the science, that the late Prof. Caldwell, of Louisville, who had an opportunity of conversing with her, and also seeing her perform some experiments, declared “she was deeply acquainted with almost every branch of physical science.” Other cases might be mentioned, but these are sufficient for our purpose.

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Our constant readers will remember that several articles from different persons appeared in the last volume of the SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN, relating to solar heat at the surface of the earth. The question was introduced by Wm. Partridge, of Binghamton, who took the position, that density of the atmosphere, and not the angularity of the sun’s rays, was the principal reason why it was warmer in valleys than on the tops of mountains. His views were opposed by other correspondents, but none of them supported their opinions with practical experiments to decide the question; this we are happy to say has been done by a lady.

A paper was read before the late meeting of the Scientific Association, by Prof. Henry for Mrs. Eunice Foot (sic), detailing her experiments to determine the effects of the sun’s rays on different gases. These were made with an air pump and two glass receivers of the same size—four inches in diameter, and thirty in length. The air was exhausted from one and condensed in the other, and they were both placed in the sun light, side by side, with a thermometer in each.

In a short period of time, the temperature in the receiver containing the condensed air, rose thirty degrees higher than the other; thus proving conclusively that the greater density of air on low levels is at least one cause of greater heat in valleys than on mountains. Experiments were also tried with moist air, and its temperature was elevated above dry air. Hydrogen gas was placed in one receiver and oxygen in the other, when the temperature of the former rose to 104°, but the latter to 106° Fah.; while, in carbonic acid1—a more dense gas than either—it rose to 126°.

It is believed and taught by geologists that during the period preceding the carboniferous era,—when the coal bed materials were forming—that the atmosphere of the earth contained immense quantities of carbonic acid, and that there was a very elevated temperature of atmosphere in existence, in comparison with that of the present day.2 Those who believe that this earth was once a fiery ball, attribute this ancient great atmospheric heat to the elevated temperature of the earth; but Mrs. Foot’s experiments attribute it to a more rational cause, and leave the Plutonists but a small foundation to stand upon for their theory.

The columns of the SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN have been oftentimes graced with articles on scientific subjects, by ladies, which would do honor to men of the highest scientific reputation; and the experiments of Mrs. Foot afford abundant evidence of the ability of woman to investigate any subject with originality and precision.

Thanks to Ana Unruh Cohen for sharing this remarkable document. Please subscribe to DMs are open@[email protected]

1 Now known as carbon dioxide.

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