Across the pond

four mugs, each with a signature on the front  and an elemental diagram on the back -- Dalton, Davy, Kelvin, and Rutherford The May 2016 article, “Tragedies of oxygen”, touched upon a prominent English theologian, dissenting clergyman, natural philosopher, chemist, educator and liberal political theorist. Joseph Priestley wasn’t the lone Brit with an ACT2 mug to his honor. Dalton, Davy, Kelvin and Rutherford also share this honor.

Dalton's mug presents 15 elements and the symbols used by Dalton. Dalton used his own symbols to visually represent the atomic structure of compounds depicted in A New System of Chemical Philosophy, where he listed 20 elements and 17 simple molecules. John Dalton (1766-1844) was born into a Quaker family just south of Scotland. An education for Quakers was hard to obtain in England. By virtue of being dissenters, Quakers were barred from attending English schools and universities. Therefore Dalton was educated by his father and John Fletcher, a teacher in the Quaker school. When Fletcher retired in 1778, Dalton took his place at age 12! By age 15 John and an older brother were operating their own school for area Quakers. By age 27, he acquired enough scientific knowledge through informal tutoring that he was appointed as faculty at the New College in Manchester. Today, New College is known as Harris Manchester College, part of the University of Oxford.

Dalton’s first publication in 1793 was in meteorology. Growing up just north of the mountainous Lake District and vacationing there throughout his life, Dalton’s long fascination with meteorology and recorded observations were well cultivated. Many a mountain climb included measurements of temperature, humidity and altitude.

Shortly after his arrival at New College in 1794, Dalton was elected a member of the Manchester Literary and Philosophical Society (Lit & Phil), and published his first manuscript with them, "Extraordinary Facts Relating to the Vision of Colours." Unfortunately, Dalton's theory lost credence in his own lifetime, but the visual affliction was so broadly recognized at that time as “Daltonism” that it became a common term for colorblindness.

In 1800 Dalton began publishing his most recognized work in chemistry. His first published table contained six elements: hydrogen, oxygen, nitrogen, carbon, sulfur and phosphorus with the atom of hydrogen conventionally assumed to weigh 1. Four essays in Lit & Phil contained his work on the constitution of mixed gases, pressure of steam and other vapors at different temperatures and pressures, on evaporation, and on the thermal expansion of gases resulting in what is now known as Dalton’s law of partial pressures.

Dalton wrote several essays that at the time were not noted as much as they should have been. Today they highly praised and published in A New System of Chemical Philosophy (1808-1827). In these essays he suggested how atoms could be used to explain chemical reactions. He also postulated what has now become known as the law of multiple proportions. A century later in 1913, Ernest Rutherford made his formal proposal that the atom was structured like a tiny solar system with electrons orbiting a positively charged nucleus, the same as Dalton had proposed in his atomic theory!

Since we're on the subject of atomic theory, let's turn our attention to the First Baron Rutherford of Nelson. The nucleus of the atom was discovered in 1910 by Rutherford. This mug was distributed in 2010 to celebrate the centennial. (The nucleus was not confirmed until 1911.) As professor of chemistry at McGill University, Montreal then the University of Manchester, and finally at Cambridge, Rutherford (1871-1937), a New Zealander by birth, spent the first 20 years of his life matriculating that country's educational system until winning a research fellowship for postgraduate study at the Cavendish Laboratory, University of Cambridge. Considered an "alien" because of his lack of a Cambridge degree, — he actually obtain his degree with a double major in mathematics and physical science in one year, 1893 — he fell under the leadership of JJ. Thomson. At Cambridge Rutherford discovered with Thomson the conductive effects of X-rays on gases, work that led to the discovery of the electron, which Thomson presented to the world in 1897. The following year Thomson recommended Rutherford for the Chair position at McGill University. In Montreal, Canada, at McGill, he worked on radioactive bodies, particularly on the emission of alpha (α) rays. With R.B. Owens he studied the "emanation" of thorium and discovered a new noble gas, an isotope of radon (acknowledged on the mug). Continuing his research in Canada, he classified radiation into α, β, γ types, and ultimately described half-life. As a result of this work, the 1908 Nobel Prize in Chemistry was awarded to Rutherford "for his investigations into the disintegration of the elements, and the chemistry of radioactive substances."1

What might surprise readers is that Rutherford postulated his famous Gold Foil experiment after becoming a Nobel Laureate. In 1909 under his direction, Geiger and Marsden were asked to reexamine their results looking for very high deflection angles of a type not expected from any current theory of matter at that time. Such deflections, though rare, were found and proved to be a smooth but high-order function of the deflection angle. It was Rutherford's interpretation of these data that led him to formulate the Rutherford model of the atom in 1911. He died in Cambridge, UK in 1937 and is buried at Westminster Abbey near Isaac Newton.

Sir Humphry Davy (1778-1829), 1st Baronet was born in Penzance in Cornwall, England. As a young adult Davy's friends would say of him, "This boy Humphry is incorrigible. He will blow us all up in the air."2 His eldest sister would often complain of the ravages made on her dresses by corrosive substances. He originally apprenticed as a surgeon in Penzance, but his attention was drawn to the apothecary’s dispensary, where, it is said, Davy became a chemist. Ultimately, Davy landed as a professor at the Royal Institution in London, and pioneered electrolysis for the preparation of reactive metallic elements. Davy is best remembered today for his discoveries of several alkali and alkaline earth metals as well as for his contributions to the discoveries of the elemental nature of chlorine and iodine. He set the record for the number of natural elements discovered by one person. (On Davy's mug, Mg should have been included and not Cd.)

William Thomson (1824-1907), 1st Baron Kelvin (or Lord Kelvin) was a British mathematical physicist and engineer. William Thomson was born in College Square East, Belfast, Ireland. His mother passed away when he was six after which he moved to be with his family in Glasgow, Scotland (1833) where his father, James Thomson, had been appointed as professor of mathematics at the University of Glasgow (1832). William was an infant prodigy in mathematics. He was taught by his father until age 10, and then entered the University of Glasgow. He published his first paper at the age of 16. He did important work in the mathematical analysis of electricity and helped formulate the first and second laws of thermodynamics. The Kelvin scale is named after him. In 1866 he was knighted for his achievements in submarine cable laying. In 1892 he was raised to the peerage as Baron Kelvin of Largs, a title he chose because of the Kelvin River near Glasgow. He is also known as the 1st Baron Kelvin, often referred to simply as Lord Kelvin. In addition, he was Britain's first scientific peer and held the title of Professor of Natural Philosophy (PNP). Lord Kelvin died in Largs-Scotland, UK.

The next article in the ACT2 signature-mug collection will be to honor the Europeans. We have tried to group our mugs by some commonality: the firsts, then oxygen's discoverers, and this grouping of those with connections to the United Kingdom. Challenge your students to create their own groups of discoverers of the

References (accessed August 2016)

1.    Wikipedia references for John Dalton and Ernest Rutherford

2.    Davy, Humphry, Dictionary of National Biography. London: Smith, Elder & Co.