Frederick Soddy (1877-1956)

Intra-atomic Charge.

Nature 92, 399-400 (December 4, 1913)

That the intra-atomic charge of an element is determined by its place in the periodic table rather than by its atomic weight, as concluded by A. van der Broek (NATURE, November 27, p. 372), is strongly supported by the recent generalisation as to the radio-elements and the periodic law. The successive expulsion of one α and two β particles in three radio-active changes in any order brings the intra-atomic charge of the element back to its initial value, and the element back to its original place in the table, though its atomic mass is reduced by four units. We have recently obtained something like a direct proof of van der Broek's view that the intra-atomic charge of the nucleus of an atom is not a purely positive charge, as on Rutherford's tentative theory. but is the difference between a positive and a smaller negative charge.

Fajans, in his paper on the periodic law generalisation (Physikal. Zeitsch., 1913, vol. xiv., p. 131), directed attention to the fact that the changes of chemical nature consequent upon the expulsion of α and β particles are precisely of the same kind as in ordinary electrochemical changes of valency. He drew from this the conclusion that radio-active changes must occur in the same region of atomic structure as ordinary chemical changes, rather than with a distinct inner region of structure or "nucleus," as hitherto supposed. In my paper on the same generalisation, published immediately after that of Fajans (Chem. News, February 28), I laid stress on the absolute identity of chemical properties of different elements occupying the same place in the periodic table.

A simple deduction from this view supplied me with a means of testing the correctness of Fajans's conclusion that radio-changes and chemical changes are concerned with the same region of atomic structure. On my view his conclusion would involve nothing else than that, for example, uranium in its tetravalent uranous compounds must be chemically identical with and non-separable from thorium compounds. For uranium X, formed from uranium I by expulsion of an α particle, is chemically identical with thorium, as also is ionium formed in the same way from uranium II. Uranium X loses two β particles and passes back into uranium II, chemically identical with uranium. Uranous salts also lose two electrons and pass into the more hexavalent uranyl compounds. If these electrons come from the same region of the atom uranous salts should be chemically non-separable from thorium salts. But they are not.

There is a strong resemblance in chemical character between uranous and thorium salts, and I asked Mr. Fleck to examine whether they could be separated by chemical methods when mixed, the uranium being kept unchanged throughout in the uranous or tetravalent condition. Mr. Fleck will publish the experiments separately, and I am indebted to him for the result that the two classes of compounds can readily be separated by fractionation methods.

This, I think, amounts to a proof that the electrons expelled as β rays come from a nucleus not capable of supplying electrons to or withdrawing them from the ring, though this ring is capable of gaining or losing electrons from the exterior during ordinary electrochemical changes of valency.

I regard van der Broek's view, that the number representing the net positive charge of the nucleus is the number of the place which the element occupies in the periodic table when all the possible places from hydrogen to uranium are arranged in sequence, as practically proved so far as the relative value of the charge for the members of the end of the sequence, from thallium to uranium, is concerned. We are left uncertain as to the absolute value of the charge, because of the doubt regarding the exact number of rare-earth elements that exist. If we assume that all of these are known, the value for the positive charge of the nucleus of the uranium atom is about 90. Whereas if we make the more doubtful assumption that the periodic table runs regularly, as regards numbers of places, through the rare-earth group, and that between barium and radium, for example, two complete long periods exist, the number is 96. In either case it is appreciably less than 120, the number were the charge equal to one-half the atomic weight, as it would be if the nucleus were made out of α particles only. Six nuclear electrons are known to exist in the uranium atom, which expels in its changes six β rays. Were the nucleus made up of α particles there must be thirty or twenty-four respectively nuclear electrons, compared with ninety-six or 102 respectively in the ring. If, as has been suggested, hydrogen is a second component of atomic structure, there must be more than this. But there can be no doubt that there must be some, and that the central charge of the atom on Rutherford's theory cannot be a pure positive charge, but must contain electrons, as van der Broek concludes.

So far as I personally am concerned, this has resulted in a great clarification of my ideas, and it may be helpful to others, though no doubt there is little originality in it. The same algebraic sum of the positive and negative charges in the nucleus, when the arithmetical sum is different, gives what I call "isotopes" or "isotopic elements," because they occupy the same place in the periodic table. They are chemically identical, and save only as regards the relatively few physical properties which depend on atomic mass directly, physically identical also. Unit changes of this nuclear charge, so reckoned algebraically, give the successive places in the periodic table. For any one "place," or any one nuclear charge, more than one number of electrons in the outer-ring system may exist, and in such a case the element exhibits variable valency. But such changes of number, or of valency, concern only the ring and its external environment. There is no in- and out-going of electrons between ring and nucleus.

Physical Chemistry Laboratory,
University of Glasgow.

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