The Liquefaction of Gases – Part I

I know, or at least I’m fairly confident, there’s a couple readers here who like deeper mathematical subjects. It’s fine to come up with simulated Price is Right games or figure out what grades one needs to pass the course, but those aren’t particularly challenging subjects.

But those are hard to write, so, while I stall, let me point you to CarnotCycle, which has a nice historical article about the problem of liquefaction of gases, a problem that’s not just steeped in thermodynamics but in engineering. If you’re a little familiar with thermodynamics you likely won’t be surprised to see names like William Thomson, James Joule, or Willard Gibbs turn up. I was surprised to see in the additional reading T O’Conor Sloane show up; science fiction fans might vaguely remember that name, as he was the editor of Amazing Stories for most of the 1930s, in between Hugo Gernsback and Raymond Palmer. It’s often a surprising world.


On Monday 3 December 1877, the French Academy of Sciences received a letter from Louis Cailletet, a 45 year-old physicist from Châtillon-sur-Seine. The letter stated that Cailletet had succeeded in liquefying both carbon monoxide and oxygen.

Liquefaction as such was nothing new to 19th century science, it should be said. The real news value of Cailletet’s announcement was that he had liquefied two gases previously considered ‘non condensable’.

While a number of gases such as chlorine, carbon dioxide, sulfur dioxide, hydrogen sulfide, ethylene and ammonia had been liquefied by the simultaneous application of pressure and cooling, the principal gases comprising air – nitrogen and oxygen – together with carbon monoxide, nitric oxide, hydrogen and helium, had stubbornly refused to liquefy, despite the use of pressures up to 3000 atmospheres. By the mid-1800s, the general opinion was that these gases could not be converted into liquids under any circumstances.

But in…

View original post 1,350 more words


Author: Joseph Nebus

I was born 198 years to the day after Johnny Appleseed. The differences between us do not end there.

7 thoughts on “The Liquefaction of Gases – Part I”

    1. Aw, but the deeper stuff is fascinating. For example, imagine you have a parcel of land with some really complicated boundary, all sorts of nooks and crannies and corners and curves and all that. If you just walk around the outside, keeping track of how far you walk and in what direction, then, you can use a bit of calculus to tell exactly how much area is enclosed by the boundary, however complicated a shape it is.

      Isn’t that amazing? You never even have to set foot inside the property, just walk around its boundary.


        1. Aw, you’re kind to me, and unkind to you. It’s not my brainpower, at least. The result is a consequence of some pretty important work you learn early on in calculus, and I’d expect you could understand the important part of it without knowing more than the basics.


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