It was not simply out of a spirit of contradiction that I exposed a light source to magnetic forces. The idea came to me during an investigation of the effect discovered by Kerr on light reflected by magnetic mirrors.
We studied the light source in the direction of the magnetic force, we perforated the poles of the magnet; but even in the direction of the magnetic lines of force we found that our result was confirmed.
I should point out, however, that at first some difficulty was experienced in observing the phenomena predicted by the theory, owing to the extreme smallness of the variations in the period of oscillation.
According to well-known electrodynamic laws, an electron moving in a magnetic field is acted upon by a force which runs perpendicular to the direction of motion of the electron and to the direction of the magnetic field, and whose magnitude is easily determined.
Now all oscillatory movements of such an electron can be conceived of as being split up into force, and two circular oscillations perpendicular to this direction rotating in opposite directions.
Moreover, photography has made it possible to fix these images and now provides us with a permanent record of each observed spectrum, which can be measured out at any time.
On the basis of Lorentz's theory, if we limit ourselves to a single spectral line, it suffices to assume that each atom (or molecule) contains a single moving electron.
Nature gives us all, including Prof. Lorentz, surprises. It was very quickly found that there are many exceptions to the rule of splitting of the lines only into triplets.
I count myself fortunate to be able to contribute to this work; and the great interest which the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences has shown in my work and the recognition that it has paid to my past successes, convince me that I am not on the wrong track.
It was natural that, soon after I had succeeded in splitting up lines, I should also study how the different lines behave in this respect.
A beam of compound light is no longer reflected by the lined surface in the ordinary way; instead each special kind of light follows its own path.
The magnetic cleavage of the spectral lines is dependent on the size of the charge of the electron, or, more accurately, on the ratio between the mass and the charge of the electron.
The rotation of the polarization plane is extraordinarily small in all gases, thus also in sodium vapour.
Of course the light source must be very restricted for the large number of beams corresponding to the various kinds of light to appear separately.
In the absence of a magnetic field the period of all these oscillations is the same. But as soon as the electron is exposed to the effect of a magnetic field, its motion changes.
Had we really succeeded therefore in altering the period of vibration, which Maxwell, as I have just noted, held to be impossible? Or was there some disturbing circumstances from one or more factors which distorted the result?
Now if this electron is displaced from its equilibrium position, a force that is directly proportional to the displacement restores it like a pendulum to its position of rest.