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John Dalton's atomic theory: Using the history and nature of science to teach particle concepts?

Version 2 2022-03-28, 01:11
Version 1 2017-12-06, 00:00
conference contribution
posted on 2022-03-28, 01:11 authored by Allan Harrison
The atomic philosophy began with the Greeks and the atomic theory emerged in the 50 years following John Dalton's research. Two views of matter competed among the Greeks and during the 18-19th Centuries: Aristotle, Dalton and Faraday saw matter as continuous in-contact particles. Boyle, Gay-Lussac and Avogadro envisaged dynamic particles separated by space. Scientific assumptions that encouraged acceptance of the continuous view of matter stalled the development of the atomic theory between 1810-60 and the atomic ideas of school students are similarly inhibited by the no-space-between-particles conception. The paper reviews the historical development of the modern atomic concept and students' alternative theories of matter and particles. Students and some textbooks insist that the macroscopic properties of a substance are manifest by isolated atoms and molecules of the substance. This projection from the macro- to micro-level appears to be a source of student misconceptions. The presentation argues that there are excellent pedagogical reasons for retracing the history of atomism and shows how and why scientists from Newton to Avogadro insisted that matter is composed of dynamic, invisible and indivisible particles. The implications for improved teaching about particles are discussed.


Category 1 - Australian Competitive Grants (this includes ARC, NHMRC)


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Brisbane, Qld.


Australian Association for Research in Education

Place of Publication

Melbourne, Victoria

Peer Reviewed

  • Yes

Open Access

  • No

External Author Affiliations

Conference; Faculty of Education and Creative Arts;

Era Eligible

  • Yes

Name of Conference

Australian Association for Research in Education (AARE). Conference

Parent Title

International education research conference: AARE 2002 Conference (Brisbane) papers