Verlag für Geschichte
der Naturwissenschaften
und der Technik

Chemischer Atomismus

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 (1999) (1999)

Britta Görs
Chemischer Atomismus
Anwendung, Veränderung, Alternativen im deutschsprachigen Raum in der zweiten Hälfte des 19. Jahrhunderts
(BBGNT – Berliner Beiträge zur Geschichte der Naturwissenschaften und der Technik, Band 23)
240 Seiten, 1 Abb., Pb., 25,80 Euro (1999, 17×24 cm)
ISBN 978-3-86225-033-2
Über die Anwendung von Theorien in der Chemie am Beispiel der Atomtheorie im späten 19. Jahrhundert.


en Summary

One of the main issues of this book is to study the understanding and use of theories in chemistry. This is discussed by the example of the atomic theory in the late 19th century in Germany. In my opinion most chemists understood and used the atomic theory in a pragmatic way. Chemists discussed if the hypothesis of an atom is useful or not and how they – the chemists – could work with it. Therefore they did not ask whether atoms exist or not. They excluded the question of the existence of atoms per definition.

The atomic theory was and is the basic theory of chemistry. During the last century it achieved the status of a scientific consensus in chemistry and was the basis for the empirical as well as for the theoretical development of chemistry. This was possible for example because of the introduction of chemical units through atomism which opened the possibility for the quantification of chemistry. The chemists used atomic weights of elements as units. Chemists understood them as well as constants of nature and thus the determination and checking of the values of the atomic weights of every element became more and more important. This work became a successful empirical research program. This program was pursued by chemists who did not mainly work in the dominant chemical discipline of organic chemistry. With this program chemists produced a research field which worked independently of organic chemistry. In this way atomism was one of the prerequisites for the genesis of the “new” chemical disciplines like inorganic, analytic and physical chemistry at the turn of the century in Germany.

The chemist Wilhelm Ostwald was a well known German antiatomist. One point of the book is to have a look at his version of atomism and at his use of the unit atom. On the one side Ostwald neglected the existence of atoms, he was a physical antiatomist. On the other side he worked like his colleagues with atoms, and so he was as well a chemical atomist. The book will give an explanation for this apparent contradiction.

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