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History of Science

Examples of major events in science and how they have shaped the field.

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Better Late than Never

Better Late than Never

Credit: Steven Damron
Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/97719890@N00/4467584481
License: CC BY-NC 3.0

Did you ever get a belated birthday card? It might say something like “Better late than never.” That’s a commonly heard phrase. It apparently dates back over 2000 years to ancient Rome!

The Back Story

  • “Better late than never” could also apply to the idea of the atom. It was first proposed by the ancient Greek philosopher Democritus. However, for more than 2000 years no one took the idea seriously, so it was pretty much forgotten.
  • Why does knowledge of atoms matter? Chemistry is based on an understanding of atoms. Without chemistry, much of modern life would not be possible. For example, the amazing advances of modern medicine depend heavily on chemistry.
  • You can learn about Democritus’ and his ideas about the atom by watching this video: 


What Do You Think?

Learn more about Democritus, atoms, and the importance of chemistry at the links below. Then answer the questions that follow.

  1. Democritus was interested in many things and had other good ideas about the natural world. However, he is best remembered for his ideas about the atom. How did he conceive of atoms?
  2. After Democritus came up with the idea of the atom, how long was it until scientists actually “saw” atoms? How did they “see” them?
  3. How are all atoms the same?
  4. Explain why almost everything in the universe depends on atoms.
  5. Atoms and their parts are the basis of chemical substances and how they interact. Therefore, chemistry rests on an understanding of atoms. Why is chemistry important in the real world?
  6. What do you think? How might the history of science have been different if Democritus’ idea of the atom had been accepted sooner?

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Image Attributions

  1. [1]^ Credit: Steven Damron; Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/97719890@N00/4467584481; License: CC BY-NC 3.0

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