Portrait of Democritus
1. Historical Perspective
Discovering different elements was easier than
discovering how elements work. Many earlier philosophers
felt that if you understood how elements interact, you would
discover how to create or destroy matter. They were all looking
for a way to create gold! Greed and power by early kings was
the initial drive behind experiments to create elements. However, it was the beginning of the “atomic theory.”
Early philosophers from ancient India (6th
Century BC), Greece (5th Century BC), and
Rome (1st Century BC) wrote about small particles
that could not be divided. Most of their discussions were an
attempt to understand how matter forms and changes. It was the
Democritus (470 – 380
used the term “atomos,”
which means “indivisible,” to describe the existence of
these fundamental particles. However, there was no way to prove
the existence of an “atom,” so there was not much interest for
thousands of years.
Proving there were particles called “atoms” had to wait
until the 1800’s, when experiments in chemistry became more
systematic. As in most science disciplines prior knowledge and
experiments were needed to logically come to the conclusion that
matter is composed of atomic and subatomic particles.
We cannot really “see” or “touch” these particles, even today.
Scientists make conclusion by collecting data and making
theories to fit the data. There could be scientific experiments
that might change how we describe subatomic particles.