Too Long; Didn't ReadIn almost all investigations which the physicist carries out in the laboratory, he has to deal with and to measure with accuracy those subtile and to our senses inappreciable forces to which the so-called laws of nature give rise. Whether he is observing by an electrometer the behavior of electricity at rest or by a galvanometer the action of electricity in motion, whether in the tube of Crookes he is investigating the power of radiant matter, or with the famous experiment of Cavendish he is finding the mass of the earth—in these and in a host of other cases he is bound to measure with certainty and accuracy forces so small that in no ordinary way could their existence be detected, while disturbing causes which might seem to be of no particular consequence must be eliminated if his experiments are to have any value. It is not too much to say that the very existence of the physicist depends upon the power which he possesses of producing at will and by artificial means forces against which he balances those that he wishes to measure.
I had better perhaps at once indicate in a general way the magnitude of the forces with which we have to deal.
The weight of a single grain is not to our senses appreciable, while the weight of a ton is sufficient to crush the life out of any one in a moment. A ton is about 15,000,000 grains. It is quite possible to measure with unfailing accuracy forces which bear the same relation to the weight of a grain that a grain bears to a ton.