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XXX. On The Change Of Refrangibility Of Light


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The following researches originated in a consideration of the very remarkable phenomenon discovered by Sir John Herschel in a solution of sulphate of quinine, and described by him in two papers printed in the Philosophical Transactions for 1845, entitled ‘On a Case of Superficial Colour presented by a Homogeneous Liquid internally colourless,’ and 'On the Epipolic Dispersion of Light.’ The solution of quinine, though it appears to be perfectly transparent and colourless, like water, when viewed by transmitted light, exhibits nevertheless in certain aspects, and under certain incidences of the light, a beautiful celestial blue colour. It appears from the experiments of Sir John Herschel that the blue colour comes only from a stratum of fluid of small but finite thickness adjacent to the surface by which the light enters. After passing through this stratum, the incident light, though not sensibly enfeebled nor coloured, has lost the power of producing the same effect, and therefore may be considered as in some way or other qualitatively different from the original light. The dispersion which takes place near the surface of this liquid is called by Sir John Herschel epipolic , and he applies the term epipolized to a beam of light which, having been transmitted through a quiniferous solution, has been thereby rendered incapable of further undergoing epipolic dispersion. In one experiment, in which sun-light was used, a feeble blue gleam was observed to extend to nearly half an inch from the surface. As regards the dispersed light itself, when analysed by a prism it was found to consist of rays extending over a great range of refrangibility: the less refrangible extremity of the spectrum was however wanting. On being analysed by a tourmaline, it showed no signs of polarization. A special experiment showed that the dispersed light was perhaps incapable, at any rate not peculiarly susceptible, of being again dispersed. In a paper 'On the Decomposition and Dispersion of Light within Solid and Fluid Bodies,’ read before the Royal Society of Edinburgh in 1846, and printed in the 16th volume of their Transactions, as well as in the Philosophical Magazine for June 1848, Sir David Brewster notices these results of Sir John Herschel’s, and states the conclusions, in some respects different, at which he had arrived by operating in a different way. The phenomenon of internal dispersion had been discovered by him some years before, and is briefly noticed in a paper read before the Royal Society of Edinburgh in 1833. It is described at length, as exhibited in the particular case of fluor-spar, in a paper communicated to the British Association at Newcastle in 1838. In Sir David Brewster’s experiments the sun’s light was condensed by a lens, and so admitted into the solid or fluid to be examined; which afforded peculiar facilities for the study of the phenomena. On examining in this way a solution of sulphate of quinine, it was found that light was dispersed, not merely close to the surface, but at a long distance within the fluid: and Sir David Brewster was led to conclude that the dispersion produced by sulphate of quinine was only a particular case of the general phenomenon of internal dispersion. On analysing the blue beam by a rhomb of calcareous spar, it was found that a considerable portion of it, consisting chiefly of the less refrangible rays, was polarized in the plane of reflexion, while the more refrangible of its rays, constituting an intensely blue beam, had a different polarization.