From the number of different properties possessed by my cells, it might be anticipated that the different combinations of those properties would result in cells having every variety of action. This is found to be the case. As a general rule, the cells are noteworthy in one respect only. Thus, if a cell is extremely sensitive to light, it may not be specially remarkable in other respects. As a matter of fact, however, the cells most sensitive to the light are also "U B cells."
The property of sensitiveness to light is independent of the power to generate current by exposure to light - the best current-generating cells being only very moderately sensitive to light, and some of the most sensitive cells generate scarcely any current at all. Current-generating cells are, almost without exception, "U B cells;" and the best current-generating cells are strongly polarized, showing a considerable change of resistance by reversing the direction of a current through them; and they are also strong "anode cells," i.e., the surface next to the gold offers a higher resistance to a battery current than the other surface of the selenium does. The power to generate a current is temporarily weakened by sending a battery current through the cell while exposed to light, in either direction. The current generated by exposure to light is also weakened by warming the cell, unless the cell is arranged for producing current by exposure to heat.
The properties of sensitiveness to light and to change of battery power are independent of each other, as I have cells which are sensitive to change of current but absolutely insensitive to light - their resistance remaining exactly the same whether the cells are in darkness or in sunlight. I also have cells which are sensitive to light, but are unaffected by change of battery power, or by reversing the direction of the current through them.
The sensitiveness to change of battery power is also independent of the sensitiveness to reversal of direction of the current. Among the best "L B cells," some are "anode cells" and others are "cathode cells," while still others are absolutely insensitive to reversal of current or to the action of light.
A noticeable point in my cells is the remarkable constancy of the resistance in sunlight. Allowing for differences in the temperature, the currents, and the light, at different times, the resistance of a cell in sunlight will remain practically constant during months of use and experiments, although during that time the treatments received may have varied the resistance in dark hundreds of thousands of ohms - sometimes carrying it up, and at others carrying it down again, perhaps scores of times, until it is "matured," or reaches the condition in which its resistance becomes constant.
As has already been stated, the sensitiveness of a cell to light is increased by proper usage. This increased sensitiveness is shown, not by a lowered resistance in light, but by an increased resistance in dark. This change in the cells goes on, more or less rapidly, according as it is retarded or favored by the treatment it receives, until a maximum is reached, after which the resistance remains practically constant in both light and dark, and the cell is then "matured," or finished. The resistance in dark may now be 50 or even 100 times as high as when the cell was first made, yet, whenever exposed to sunlight it promptly shows the same resistance that it did in the beginning. The various treatments, and even accidents, through which it has passed in the mean time, seem not to have stirred its molecular arrangement under the action of light, but to have expended their forces in modifying the positions which the molecules must normally assume in darkness.
There are many peculiarities of action occasionally found, and the causes of such actions are not always discernible. In practice, I have been accustomed to find the peculiarities and weaknesses of each cell by trial, developing its strongest properties and avoiding its weaknesses, until, when the cell is finished, it has a definite and known character, and is fitted for certain uses and a certain line of treatment, which should not be departed from, as it will be at the risk of temporarily disabling it. In consequence of the time and labor expended in making cells, in the small way, testing, repairing damages done during experiments, etc., the cost of the cells now is unavoidably rather high. But if made in a commercial way, all this would be reduced to a system, and the cost would be small. I may say here that I do not make cells for sale.
The applications or uses for these cells are almost innumerable, embracing every branch of electrical science, especially telegraphy, telephony, and electric lighting, but I refrain from naming them. I may be permitted, however, to lay before you two applications, because they are of such general scientific interest. The first is my
The light to be measured is caused to shine upon a photo-electric current-generating cell, and the current thus produced flows through a galvano-metric coil in circuit, whose index indicates upon its scale the intensity of the light. The scale may be calibrated by means of standard candles, and the deflections of the index will then give absolute readings showing the candle power of the light being tested. Or, the current produced by that light and that produced by the standard candle may be compared, according to any of the known ways of arranging and comparing different lights - the cell being lastly exposed alternately to the two lights, to see if the index gives exactly the same deflection with each light.
This arrangement leaves untouched the old difficulty in photometry, that arising from the different colors of different lights. I propose to obviate that difficulty in the following manner. As is well known, gold transmits the green rays, silver the blue rays, and so on; therefore, a cell faced with gold will be acted upon by the green rays, one faced with silver by the blue rays, etc. Now, if we construct three cells (or any other number), so faced that the three, collectively, will be acted upon by all the colors, and arrange them around the light to be tested, at equal distances therefrom, each cell will produce a current corresponding to the colored rays suited to it, and all together will produce a current corresponding to all the rays emitted by the light, no matter what the proportions of the different colors may be. The three currents may act upon the same index, but each should have its own coil, not only for the sake of being able to join or to isolate their influences upon the index, but also to avoid the resistances of the other cells. If a solid transparent conductor of electricity could be found which could be thick enough for practical use and yet would transmit all the rays perfectly, i.e., transmit white light unchanged, that would be still better.
I have not yet found a satisfactory conductor of that kind, but I think the plan stated will answer the same purpose. This portion of my system I have not practically tested, but it appears to me to give good promise of removing the color stumbling-block, which has so long defied all efforts to remove it, and I therefore offer it for your consideration.
My regulator consists of a current-generating cell arranged in front of a light, say an electric lamp, whose light represents the varying strength of the current which supports it. The current produced in the cell by this light flows through an electro-magnetic apparatus by means of which mechanical movement is produced, and this motion is utilized for changing resistances, actuating a valve, rotating brushes, moving switches, levers, or other devices. This has been constructed on a small scale, and operates well, and I think it is destined to be largely used, as a most sensitive, simple, and perfect regulator for currents, lights, dynamos, motors, etc., etc., whether large or small.
In conclusion, I would say that the investigation of the physical properties of selenium still offers a rare opportunity for making very important discoveries. But candor compels me to add that whoever undertakes the work will find it neither an easy nor a short one. My own experience would enable me to describe to you scores of curious experiments and still more curious and suggestive results, but lack of time prevents my giving more than this very incomplete outline of my discoveries.Paper read before the American Association for the Advancement of Science, at Philadelphia, Sept, 5, 1884.The method of constructing the cells was described in the SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN SUPPLEMENT, No. 462, for Nov. 8, 1884, page 7371.Cells No. 23 and No. 129 are now in possession of Prof. W. Gryllis Adams, of King's College, London; Dr. Werner Siemens has No. 25, and Prof. George F. Barker, of Philadelphia, has No. 26.No. 24 was measured with a bridge multiplier of 6 to 1.This measurement was obtained with 8 elements.