1st March 2021, 3:00pm

 

John Dalton – The forefather of atomic science

Have you seen him around? There is a street named after him; a building, and he has a statue, too. John Dalton, a former president of the Manchester Lit & Phil, is ingrained into the architectural furniture of Manchester.

Additionally, the Dalton Nuclear Institute at the University of Manchester is an internationally renowned hub for nuclear research, named in honour of John Dalton and his pioneering work in atomic theory and atomic weights.

The Manchester-based polymath, born in 1766, influenced a number of different fields. The Manchester Lit & Phil provided Dalton with a room for teaching and research at its building on George Street. In turn, his research flourished.

Dalton developed a new atomic theory that shook the world of chemistry in the early nineteenth century, allowing for a clearer understanding of chemical reactions. In 1801, Dalton formulated the Law of Partial Pressures, which would later become an important fixture within atmospheric studies.

 

Since I am a chemist by origin, Dalton's ideas have been a foundation for my entire working life. It is worth reflecting that what is basic and obvious now was anything but two centuries ago, and I have great respect for Dalton's insight. It is indeed sobering to realise that this is just one area of science where he made a profound contribution.

Professor Francis Livens, Director of the Dalton Nuclear Institute

 

Dalton was also colour-blind, and developed theories about achromatopsia. Following his death, Dalton donated his eyes for study. The result? Dalton’s rejected theories were proven correct, as the pathologist confirmed his colour-blindness.  The eyes were retained by the Manchester Lit & Phil, before being donated to the Museum of Science and Industry in 1997.

 

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