Pictet’s experiment: The apparent radiation and reflection of cold

James Evans, University of Puget Sound
Brian Popp, University of Washington - Seattle Campus


Towards the end of the eighteenth century it was discovered by Marc?Auguste Pictet of Geneva that cold emanations from a flask of snow could be reflected and focused by mirrors in the same way as the emanations from a heated object. Pictet’s discovery had an invigorating effect on research on radiant heat. We sketch the scientific milieu in which Pictet worked, describe the line of investigation that led him to his discovery, and summarize the theoretical explanations offered by Pictet and his contemporaries for this and related experiments. A simple qualitative explanation in modern terms is offered for the apparent radiation and reflection of cold. Finally, detailed directions are provided for replicating the experiment as a demonstration for the lecture hall.