The first subatomic explanations of the periodic system

Foundations of Chemistry 3 (2):129-143 (2001)
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Abstract

Attempts to explain the periodic system as a manifestation of regularities in the structure of the atoms of the elements are as old as the system itself. The paper analyses some of the most important of these attempts, in particular such works that are historically connected with the recognition of the electron as a fundamental building block of all matter. The history of the periodic system, the discovery of the electron, and ideas of early atomic structure are closely interwoven and transcend the physics–chemistry boundary. It is pointed out that J. J. Thomson's discovery of the electron in 1897 included a first version of his electron atomic model and that it was used to suggest how the periodic system could be understood microphysically. Thomson's theory did not hold what it promised, but elements of it were included in Niels Bohr's first atomic model. In both cases, Thomson's and Bohr's, the periodic system played an important role, heuristically as well as justificatory.

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