[Footnote: A paper read before the Philosophical Society of Washington. D. C., June 11, 1881.]


In August, 1880, I directed attention to the fact that thin disks or diaphragms of various materials become sonorous when exposed to the action of an intermittent beam of sunlight, and I stated my belief that the sounds were due to molecular disturbances produced in the substance composing the diaphragm.[1] Shortly afterwards Lord Raleigh undertook a mathematical investigation of the subject and came to the conclusion that the audible effects were caused by the bending of the plates under unequal heating.[2] This explanation has recently been called in question by Mr. Preece,[3] who has expressed the opinion that although vibrations may be produced in the disks by the action of the intermittent beam, such vibrations are not the cause of the sonorous effects observed. According to him the aerial disturbances that produce the sound arise spontaneously in the air itself by sudden expansion due to heat communicated from the diaphragm--every increase of heat giving rise to a fresh pulse of air. Mr. Preece was led to discard the theoretical explanation of Lord Raleigh on account of the failure of experiments undertaken to test the theory.

[Footnote 1: Amer. Asso. for Advancement of Science, August 27, 1880.]

[Footnote 2: Nature, vol. xxiii., p. 274.]

[Footnote 3: Roy. Soc., Mar. 10, 1881.]

Fig. 1. A B, Carbon Supports. C, Diaphragm.

Fig. 1. A B, Carbon Supports. C, Diaphragm.

He was thus forced, by the supposed insufficiency of the explanation, to seek in some other direction the cause of the phenomenon observed, and as a consequence he adopted the ingenious hypothesis alluded to above. But the experiments which had proved unsuccessful in the hands of Mr. Preece were perfectly successful when repeated in America under better conditions of experiment, and the supposed necessity for another hypothesis at once vanished. I have shown in a recent paper read before the National Academy of Science,[1] that audible sounds result from the expansion and contraction of the material exposed to the beam, and that a real to-and-fro vibration of the diaphragm occurs capable of producing sonorous effects. It has occurred to me that Mr. Preece's failure to detect, with a delicate microphone, the sonorous vibrations that were so easily observed in our experiments, might be explained upon the supposition that he had employed the ordinary form of Hughes's microphone shown in Fig. 1, and that the vibrating area was confined to the central portion of the disk. Under such circumstances it might easily happen that both the supports (a b) of the microphone might touch portions of the diaphragm which were practically at rest. It would of course be interesting to ascertain whether any such localization of the vibration as that supposed really occurred, and I have great pleasure in showing to you tonight the apparatus by means of which this point has been investigated (see Fig. 2).

[Footnote 1: April 21, 1881.]

Upon A Modification Of Wheatstone s Microphone And 288 16c

Fig. 2. A, Stiff wire. B, Diaphragm. C, Hearing tube.
D, Perforated handle.

The instrument is a modification of the form of microphone devised in 1872 by the late Sir Charles Wheatstone, and it consists essentially of a stiff wire, A, one end of which is rigidly attached to the center of a metallic diaphragm, B. In Wheatstone's original arrangement the diaphragm was placed directly against the ear, and the free extremity of the wire was rested against some sounding body--like a watch. In the present arrangement the diaphragm is clamped at the circumference like a telephone diaphragm, and the sounds are conveyed to the ear through a rubber hearing tube, c. The wire passes through the perforated handle, D, and is exposed only at the extremity. When the point, A, was rested against the center of a diaphragm upon which was focused an intermittent beam of sunlight, a clear musical tone was perceived by applying the ear to the hearing tube, c. The surface of the diaphragm was then explored with the point of the microphone, and sounds were obtained in all parts of the illuminated area and in the corresponding area on the other side of the diaphragm. Outside of this area on both sides of the diaphragm the sounds became weaker and weaker, until, at a certain distance from the center, they could no longer be perceived.

At the point where we would naturally place the supports of a Hughes microphone (see Fig. 1) no sound was observed. We were also unable to detect any audible effects when thepoint of the microphone was rested against the support to which the diaphragm was attached. The negative results obtained in Europe by Mr. Preece may, therefore, be reconciled with the positive results obtained in America by Mr. Tainter and myself. A still more curious demonstration of localization of vibration occurred in the case of a large metallic mass. An intermittent beam of sunlight was focused upon a brass weight (1 kilogramme), and the surface of the weight was then explored with the microphone shown in Fig. 2. A feeble but distinct sound was heard upon touching the surface within the illuminated area and for a short distance outside, but not in other parts.

In this experiment, as in the case of the thin diaphragm, absolute contact between the point of the microphone and the surface explored was necessary in order to obtain audible effects. Now I do not mean to deny that sound waves may be originated in the manner suggested by Mr. Preece, but I think that our experiments have demonstrated that the kind of action described by Lord Raleigh actually occurs, and that it is sufficient to account for the audible effects observed.

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