The existence of atoms has been proposed since the time of early Indian and Greek philosophers (400 B.C.) who were of the view that atoms are the fundamental building blocks of matter.
According to them, the continued subdivisions of matter would ultimately yield atoms which would not be further divisible. The word ‘atom’ has been derived from the Greek word ‘a-tomio’ which means ‘uncut-able’ or ‘non-divisible’.
These earlier ideas were mere speculations and there was no way to test them experimentally. These ideas remained dormant for a very long time and were revived again by scientists in the nineteenth century.
The atomic theory of matter was first proposed on a firm scientific basis by John Dalton, a British school teacher in 1808. His theory, called Dalton’s atomic theory, regarded the atom as the ultimate particle of matter (Unit 1).
Dalton’s atomic theory was able to explain the law of conservation of mass, law of constant composition and law of multiple proportion very successfully. However, it failed to explain the results of many experiments, for example, it was known that substances like glass or ebonite when rubbed with silk or fur get electrically charged.
In this unit we start with the experimental observations made by scientists towards the end of nineteenth and beginning of twentieth century. These established that atoms are made of sub-atomic particles, i.e., electrons, protons and neutrons — a concept very different from that of Dalton.