Pre-Dalton Scientists Teacher Sheet

Pre-Dalton Scientists Teacher Sheet By Henry Roscoe (author), William Henry Worthington (engraver), and Joseph Allen (painter) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons


John Dalton was influenced by the many scientists who came before him. In this activity, students explore some of those scientists, including: Galileo Galilei, Francis Bacon, Robert Boyle, and Isaac Newton. You can use this sheet as a resource to help you as you discuss each of these scientists.

A Meeting of the Minds

Galileo Galilei—believed in atoms and “thought the appearance of new materials in a chemical change was due to rearrangement of parts too small to be seen.” While his support for the atom rekindled and challenged the Church’s centuries-old Aristotelian doctrine, his own atomic theories were generally “not very well developed.”

Francis Bacon—legitimized matter in atomic terms when he (correctly) suggested that “heat is the rapid motion of the particles constituting a body.” More importantly, Bacon made contributions by promoting reforms in the methodology and purpose of science. Moreover, he argued for modern scientists to break with the theoretical approaches and authority of the ancients and empower themselves through more methodical and empirical approaches to science (i.e., tables and elimination). He also advanced the highly influential and revolutionary idea of “scientific enterprise,” which offered a new focus for the purpose, methodology, and goals of science from a hidden scholastic pursuit to something that ultimately “produced new inventions for the practical benefit of mankind” (industrial science). 

Robert Boyle—was the first major chemist to perform controlled experiments and publish his findings “with elaborate details concerning procedure, apparatus and observations.” Through his vacuum pump experiments, Boyle established the modern scientific method, arguing a “mechanical view of nature” while rejecting the age-old Aristotelian, theoretical approach to science. Further, Boyle’s methodology helped him provide evidence refuting the long-held Aristotelian theory that all commonly accepted elements (both old and new) were not “the simplest of all substances” or “necessary ingredients of all bodies.”

Isaac Newton—helped to bring a more modern perspective of atoms and asserted with foresight that many of the forces that bound atoms together were “short range” electrical forces. His assumptions about “forces of attraction” between atoms offered “very natural explanations for various physical chemistry-type phenomena.” His work with alchemy gave credence to the pre-chemistry concept of kinetic energy. Newton also took precise quantitative measurements in his experiments and advanced the idea that chemistry was more than just the “mechanics of corpuscles,” but a vast universal system that somehow related to chemical elements and explained the basis and workings of life.

This teacher sheet is a part of the The History of the Atom 2: Dalton lesson.

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