Article ID: CBB880180337

John Dalton and the Origin of the Atomic Theory: Reassessing the Influence of Bryan Higgins (2017)

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During the years 1814–1819, William Higgins, an Irish chemist who worked at the Dublin Society, claimed he had anticipated John Dalton in developing the atomic theory and insinuated that Dalton was a plagiarist. This essay focuses not on William Higgins, but on his uncle Bryan Higgins, a well-known chemist of his day, who had developed his own theories of caloric and chemical combination, similar in many respects to that of Dalton. New evidence is first introduced addressing Bryan's disappearance from the scientific community after 1803. In his later years, Bryan apparently suffered from a condition resulting in a decline in his mental health, which explains why he never lodged any priority claims of his own against Dalton, or defended those of his nephew. Dalton's mention of Bryan's name in Part II of A New System of Chemical Philosophy, his laboratory notebook entries, and a fresh look at his correspondence with chemist Thomas Charles Hope indicate that Dalton adopted a Higgins-like caloric model in 1803. Together these factors provide evidence to support the argument that Dalton learned of Bryan's theories via a meeting he had with William Allen on 10 July 1803. Existing evidence related to the origin of the atomic theory is worthy of re-examination in light of Dalton's possible prior knowledge of Bryan's work.

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Authors & Contributors
Rocke, Alan J.
Usselman, Melvyn C.
Grossman, Mark I.
Nelson, E. Charles
Gass, Gillian Linda
Kelly, Brendan D.
Journals
Ambix: Journal of the Society for the History of Alchemy and Chemistry
Annals of Science: The History of Science and Technology
Substantia: An International Journal of the History of Chemistry
Social Research
Archives of Natural History
Social History of Medicine
Publishers
A. & A. Farmar
Alicante Publicaciones
Oxford University Press
Concepts
Chemistry
Atomism
Chemical elements
Societies; institutions; academies
Atomic structure
Public health
People
Dalton, John
Davy, Humphry
Berzelius, Jons Jakob
Wollaston, William Hyde
Lavoisier, Antoine Laurent
Higgins, William
Time Periods
19th century
18th century
20th century, early
20th century
17th century
Places
Ireland
Dublin (Ireland)
Great Britain
Spain
England
London (England)
Institutions
Natural History Society of Dublin
Dublin Philosophical Society
Museum of Irish Industry
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