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Dalton's Atomic Theory

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Introduction

Dalton's Atomic Theory It was in the early 1800s that John Dalton, an observer of weather and discoverer of color blindness among other things, came up with his atomic theory. Let's set the stage for Dalton's work. Less than twenty years earlier, in the 1780's, Lavoisier ushered in a new chemical era by making careful quantitative measurements which allowed the compositions of compounds to be determined with accuracy. By 1799 enough data had been accumulated for Proust to establish the Law of Constant Composition ( also called the Law of Definite Proportions). In 1803 Dalton noted that oxygen and carbon combined to make two compounds. Of course, each had its own particular weight ratio of oxygen to carbon (1.33:1 and 2.66:1), but also, for the same amount of carbon, one had exactly twice as much oxygen as the other. ...read more.

Middle

The ancient Greek philosophers had talked about atoms, but Dalton's theory was different in that it had the weight of careful chemical measurements behind it. It wasn't just a philosophical statement that there are atoms because there must be atoms. His atomic theory, stated that elements consisted of tiny particles called atoms. He said that the reason an element is pure is because all atoms of an element were identical and that in particular they had the same mass. He also said that the reason elements differed from one another was that atoms of each element were different from one another; in particular, they had different masses. He also said that compounds consisted of atoms of different elements combined together. ...read more.

Conclusion

It did not convince everyone right away however. Although a number of chemists were quickly convinced of the truth of the theory, it took about a half century for the opposition to die down, or perhaps I should say die off. Let me point out again the difference between a model of atoms and a theory of atoms. A model focuses on describing what the atoms are like, whereas the theory not only talks about what the atoms are like but how they interact with one another and so forth. Dalton's model was that the atoms were tiny, indivisible, indestructible particles and that each one had a certain mass, size, and chemical behavior that was determined by what kind of element they were. We will use that model of an atom for now, but we will modify it considerably in a later lesson. ...read more.

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