Chemistry: The Modern Atom

The Modern Atom

We saw how many of the great minds in science struggled to understand the atom. We also saw how those great minds came up with fairly good (but ultimately wrong) models of the atom. If these guys were so smart, why did they keep screwing up?

As we'll see in this section, one of the problems early atomic theoreticians had was that they thought of the atom in terms that they could understand. For example, the Greeks thought the behavior of the universe could be predicted by patterns such as geometric shapes, so they came up with a model of the atom that included lots of neat shapes. Though John Dalton did a good job of refining this idea somewhat, his theories really never varied much from the Greek idea of the perfect atom. J. J. Thomson liked his desserts and came up with a model of the atom that allowed him to dream of feasts to come. These models were intuitive to the people who came up with them based on the information they had at the time.

However, the reason these models didn't work out so well was that they assumed that very small particles (like atoms) must behave in the same way as much larger objects. At the beginning of the twentieth century, people began to realize that this wasn't necessarily the case. As a result, some very unusual models of the atom were devised.

Excerpted from The Complete Idiot's Guide to Chemistry © 2003 by Ian Guch. All rights reserved including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form. Used by arrangement with Alpha Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

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