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~440 B.C.

Democritus - A Greek philosopher

• The first person to describe unseen ‘atoms’ as the basis for all matter.
• Democritus proposed that if you kept cutting a substance in half forever,
eventually you would end up with an “indivisible” particle.
• He called these particles ‘atoms’, meaning “indivisible” in Greek.
• Democritus thought that atoms were small, hard particles of a single
material that were different in shapes and sizes.
• He thought that atoms were always moving and formed different
materials by combining with each other.
• His predictions were with surprising accuracy to those predicted by the
scientists of the 20th century.
~330 B.C
Aristotle - A Greek philosopher and scientist

• Aristotle was a great draw back to the development of the atomic theory
• Aristotle, the tutor of Alexander the Great, had a great public influence at
that time. He disagreed with Democritus’ idea about the atom. Because of
his great public influence, Democritus’ ideas were ignored for centuries.
• Aristotle deduced that all matter consisted of just four elements: earth,
air, water, and fire. His views were supported by other observations; a
sapling when burning produced fire. Any sap oozing out of wood was
evidence of the element water. The smoke and steam produced gave the
element air, and the remaining ash gave earth. This idea was easy to
believe, so no one questioned it until the 17th century.
Robert Boyle - English Scientist

• After many centuries-nearly a millennia- Boyle was the person who

attacked Aristotle’s theory of four elements.
• Boyle suggested that tiny particles of primary matter combine in various
ways to form what he called corpuscles (molecules), and that all
noticeable phenomena result from the motion and structure of the
• By proving Aristotle’s theory wrong he formed a foundation for new
researches about the structure of the atom.
Antoine Lavoisier – French Chemist

• Lavoisier was the first to define and distinguish elements and compounds
• He proposed the Combustion Theory and discovered oxygen. Later he
proposed that air is made of two elements- hydrogen and oxygen.
• He was also the first to discover the Law of Conversation of Mass in
chemical reactions. This discovery was the foundation for many other ground-
breaking discoveries.
John Dalton – British Physicist

• Scientists knew that elements combined with each other in specific

proportions to form compounds. Dalton claimed that the reason for this
was because elements are made of atoms.
• He published his own three-part atomic theory:
o All substances are made of atoms. Atoms are small particles that
cannot be created, divided, or destroyed.
o Atoms of the same element are exactly alike, and atoms of different
elements are different.
o Atoms join with other atoms to make new substances. In any
substance, the atoms of the different elements in the substance are
joined in a definite whole-number ratio, such as 1:1, 2:1, 3:2, etc.
• He also proposed that atoms of different elements have unique atomic
• Much of Dalton’s theory was correct, but some of it was later proven
incorrect and revised as scientists learned more about atoms.

Daltons model: A hard sphere

Joseph John Thomson – English Physicist

• Thomson used a cathode-ray tube to conduct an experiment which

showed that there are small particles inside atoms.
• This discovery identified an error in Dalton’s atomic theory. Atoms can be
divided into smaller parts.
• Because the beam moved away from the negatively charged plate and
toward the positively charged plate, Thomson knew that the particles
must have a negative charge.
• He called these particles corpuscles. We now call these particles electrons.
• Thomson changed the atomic theory to include the presence of electrons.
He knew there must be positive charges present to balance the negative
charges of the electrons, but he didn’t know where.
• Thomson proposed a model of an atom called the “plum-pudding” model,
in which negative electrons are scattered throughout a cloud of positively
charged material.

Thomson’s ‘Plum pudding’ model

Ernest Rutherford – British Physicist

• Rutherford conducted an experiment in which he shot a beam of positively

charged particles (alpha particles) into a sheet of gold foil.
• Rutherford predicted that if atoms were as the plum-pudding model
suggested, the particles would pass through the gold and continue in a
straight line.
• Most of the particles did continue in a straight line. However some of the
particles were deflected to the sides a bit, and a few bounced straight

• Rutherford realized that the ‘plum-pudding’ model did not explain his
observations. He changed the atomic theory and developed a new model
of the atom.
• Rutherford’s model says that most of the atom’s mass is found in a region
in the centre called the nucleus (tiny, extremely dense, positively charged
region in the centre of an atom).
• Rutherford then proposed the existence of the third atomic particle, the
neutron (a particle that is of the same size as a proton, but has no overall
• Rutherford also calculated that the nucleus was 100,000 times smaller
than the diameter of the atom.
• In Rutherford’s model the atom is mostly empty space, and the electrons
travel in random paths around the nucleus.

Rutherford’s nuclear model

Niels Bohr – Danish Physicist

• Bohr explained that the electrons can move about the nucleus only in
specific orbits or paths, called energy levels. As long as it stayed within a
specific energy level it will not radiate energy.
o He explained that energy level n=1 is the closest to the nucleus, has
the lowest energy, and is the most stable. Therefore electrons will
tend to fall back to lower energy levels, emitting electromagnetic
radiation in the process. The energy of this radiation is equal to the
energy difference between the higher and lower energy levels.

Bohr model
James Chadwick – British Physicist

• Chadwick was a colleague of Rutherford’s; Chadwick continued

Rutherford’s research and became the first person to discover the
• The discovery of the neutron led directly to the discovery of fission and to
the atomic bomb.
Modern Theory: Erwin Schrödinger- Austrian physicist
Werner Heisenberg – German physicist

Schrödinger Heisenberg

• Proposed that electrons do not travel in definite paths around the nucleus.
• The exact path or position of moving electron cannot be predicted or
determined. Rather, there are regions inside the atom where electrons are
likely to be found.
o Electron clouds – Regions inside an atom where electrons are likely
to be found

Electron-cloud model
???????? Present Model
• The current model scientists nowadays are using is called the ‘Probability
Contour’ model. It is an improved version to the electron cloud model.
• This model forgoes the hope of pinpointing the position of the electron.
Instead regions of electron probability are established. The probability
contours shown would be imagined to contain an electron for a particular
fraction of the time say 90%