Vol. 5 No. 2 (2021)
Historical Articles

Capillary Electrophoresis and its Basic Principles in Historical Retrospect. Part 2. Electrophoresis of Ions: the Period from its Discovery in 1800 till Faraday’s Lines of Electric Force in the 1840s.

Ernst Kenndler
Institute for Analytical Chemistry, Faculty of Chemistry, University of Vienna, Vienna, Austria
Bio
Drawing of Davy´s experimental arrangement with three glass tubes for the study “On the Passage of Acids, Alkalies, and other Substances through various attracting chemical Menstrua, by Means of Electricity”. It shows three glass tubes with platina wires as poles in the two outer tubes A and B, which communicate with the middle tube by strips of amianthus C (i.e. a fine silky asbestos), wetted with distilled water. The experiments are described in the text. It clearly confirms the migration of ions by electrophoresis.

Published 2021-09-09

Keywords

  • Ion electrophoresis,
  • History,
  • Action at a distance,
  • Electric field

How to Cite

Kenndler, E. (2021). Capillary Electrophoresis and its Basic Principles in Historical Retrospect. Part 2. Electrophoresis of Ions: the Period from its Discovery in 1800 till Faraday’s Lines of Electric Force in the 1840s. Substantia, 5(2), 97 - 120. https://doi.org/10.36253/Substantia-1312

Abstract

This review is the first in a series that deals exclusively with electrophoresis of ions. Since in modern terminology "electrophoresis is the movement of dispersed particles relative to a fluid under the influence of a spatially uniform electric field”, electrophoresis is not limited to colloidal particles, it includes ions as well. The history of electrophoresis of ions therefore begins in 1800 at the same time as that of electrolysis, because the two phenomena are so inextricably linked “that one cannot happen without the other” (Faraday, 1834).

Between 1800 and 1805 about half a dozen different theories of electrolytic decomposition and the movement of the particles - for which we coin the term electrophoretic current - were formulated, all contributing to the discourse, but lacking consistency and none fully convincing. They are discussed nonetheless because most of them fell into oblivion, even though they are interesting for historical reasons. However, from 1805/1806 the predominant theory, formulated by Theodor von Grotthuß and independently by Humphry Davy assumed that polarized molecules of water or dissolved ions form chains between the two electrodes. Only the terminal atoms of these chains were in direct contact with the electrodes and were liberated by galvanic action, but are immediately replaced by neighboring atoms of the same type. This decomposition and recombination of the molecules driven by electric forces which follow the “action at a distance” principle like in Coulomb´s law takes place over the entire chains; they represent the electrophoretic current. However, in 1833 Michael Faraday refuted all previous theories. Two of his groundbreaking findings were of particular importance for the electrophoresis of ions: one was that electricity consists of elementary units of charge. The ions thus carry one or a multiple of these units. The other was the revolutionary theory of the electric lines of force in early 1840s, and of what was later called the electric field. With these findings Faraday fundamentally changed the previously prevailing view of the electrophoresis of ions.

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