The concept that matter is composed of discrete units and cannot be divided into arbitrarily tiny quantities has been around for millennia, but these ideas were founded in abstract, philosophical reasoning rather than experimentation and empirical observation. The nature of atoms in philosophy varied considerably over time and between cultures and schools, and often had spiritual elements.
Nevertheless, the basic idea of the atom was adopted by scientists thousands of years later because it elegantly explained new discoveries in the field of chemistry. The ancient name of "atom" from atomism had already been nearly universally used to describe chemical atoms by that time, and it was therefore retained as a term, long after chemical atoms were found to be divisible, and even after smaller, truly indivisible particles were identified.
References to the concept of atoms date back to ancient Greece and India. In India, the Ājīvika, Jain, and Cārvāka schools of atomism may date back to the 6th century BCE. The Nyaya and Vaisheshika schools later developed theories on how atoms combined into more complex objects. In the West, the references to atoms emerged in the 5th century BCE with Leucippus, whose student, Democritus, systematized his views.
In approximately 450 BCE, Democritus coined the term átomos (Greek: ἄτομος), which means "uncuttable" or "the smallest indivisible particle of matter". Although the Indian and Greek concepts of the atom were based purely on philosophy, modern science has retained the name coined by Democritus.
Corpuscularianism is the postulate, expounded in the 13th-century by the alchemist Pseudo-Geber (Geber), sometimes identified with Paul of Taranto, that all physical bodies possess an inner and outer layer of minute particles or corpuscles. Corpuscularianism is similar to the theory of atomism, except that where atoms were supposed to be indivisible, corpuscles could in principle be divided.
Further progress in the understanding of atoms did not occur until the science of chemistry began to develop. In 1789, French nobleman and scientific researcher Antoine Lavoisier discovered the law of conservation of mass and defined an element as a basic substance that could not be further broken down by the methods of chemistry.
In 1805, English instructor and natural philosopher John Dalton used the concept of atoms to explain why elements always react in ratios of small whole numbers (the law of multiple proportions) and why certain gases dissolved better in water than others. He proposed that each element consists of atoms of a single, unique type, and that these atoms can join together to form chemical compounds. Dalton is considered the originator of modern atomic theory.
Dalton's atomic hypothesis did not specify the size of atoms. Common sense indicated they must be very small, but nobody knew how small. Therefore it was a major landmark when in 1865 Johann Josef Loschmidt measured the size of the molecules that make up air.
An additional line of reasoning in support of particle theory (and by extension atomic theory) began in 1827 when botanist Robert Brown used a microscope to look at dust grains floating in water and discovered that they moved about erratically—a phenomenon that became known as "Brownian motion". J.
Desaulx suggested in 1877 that the phenomenon was caused by the thermal motion of water molecules, and in 1905 Albert Einstein produced the first mathematical analysis of the motion. French physicist Jean Perrin used Einstein's work to experimentally determine the mass and dimensions of atoms, thereby conclusively verifying Dalton's atomic theory.(wikipedia.org)
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