By Thomas Turner, Assoc. R.S.M., F.C.S., Demonstrator of Chemistry, Mason College.
There are a number of interesting facts, some of which are known to most persons, and many of them have been long recognized, of which, however, it must be owned that the explanation is somewhat obscure, and the connections existing between them have been but recently pointed out. As an example of this, it is well known that salt water freezes at a lower temperature than fresh water, and hence sea-water may be quite liquid while rivers and ponds are covered with ice. Again, it is noticed that mixtures of salts often have a fusing-point lower than that of either of the constituent salts, and of this fact we often take advantage in fluxing operations. Further, it is well known that certain alloys can be prepared, the melting-points of which are lower than the melting-point of either of the constituent metals alone. Thus, while potassium melts at 62.5° C., and sodium at about 98°, an alloy of these metals is fluid at ordinary temperatures, and fusible metal melts below the temperature of boiling water, or more than 110° lower than the melting-point of tin, the most fusible of the three metals which enter into the composition of this alloy.
But though these and many similar facts have been long known, it is but recently, owing largely to the labors of Dr. Guthrie, that fresh truths have been brought to light, and a connection shown to exist throughout the whole which was previously unseen, though we have still to acknowledge that at present there is much at the root of the matter which is but imperfectly understood. Still Dr. Guthrie proves a relationship to exist between the several facts we have previously mentioned, and also between a number of other phenomena which at first sight appear to be equally isolated and unexpected, and we are asked to regard them all as examples of what he has called "eutexia."
We may define a eutectic substance as a body composed of two or more constituents, which constituents are in such proportion to one another as to give to the resultant compound body a minimum temperature of liquefaction - that is, a lower temperature of liquefaction than that given by any other proportion.2 It will be seen at once by this definition that the temperature of liquefaction of a eutectic substance is lower than the temperature of liquefaction of either or any of the constituents of the mixture. And, further, it is plain that those substances only can be eutectic which we can obtain both as liquid and solid, and hence the property of eutexia is closely connected with solution.
Following in the natural divisions adopted by Dr. Guthrie, we may consider eutexia in three aspects: