Science & Education

, Volume 20, Issue 3–4, pp 317–341 | Cite as

How Historical Experiments Can Improve Scientific Knowledge and Science Education: The Cases of Boiling Water and Electrochemistry

  • Hasok Chang


I advance some novel arguments for the use of historical experiments in science education. After distinguishing three different types of historical experiments and their general purposes, I define complementary experiments, which can recover lost scientific knowledge and extend what has been recovered. Complementary experiments can help science education in four major ways: to enrich the factual basis of science teaching; to improve students’ understanding of the nature of science; to foster habits of original and critical inquiry; and to attract students to science through a renewed sense of wonder. I illustrate these claims with my own recent work in historical experiments, in which I reproduced anomalous variations in the boiling point of water reported 200 years ago, and carried out new experimental and theoretical work arising from the replication of some early electrochemical experiments.


Science Education Historical Experiment Complementary Experiment Pessimistic Induction Chemistry Textbook 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.



For their invaluable and generous help with the experimental work reported here, I would like to thank Daren Caruana, Andrea Sella, Rosie Coates, Crosby Medley and many others in the Department of Chemistry at University College London; I am also grateful to the Leverhulme Trust and the ESRC for their research grants. This paper would not have been written if it had not been for Ismo Koponen’s kind invitation to the Nordic Symposium in 2009, and for his gentle persistence in urging me to prepare a written version for publication in this special issue. I also thank him and various other participants in the symposium for their helpful comments and kind enthusiasm. I thank Michael Matthews and the three anonymous reviewers of this paper, who gave vital criticism and encouragement on the previous version of the manuscript. I would also like to thank Jed Buchwald, Elizabeth Cavicchi, Douglas Allchin, Peter Heering, and Jenny Rampling for their help, advice and encouragement over the years, which have fed into this paper in various ways. Gerald Holton has taught me more relevant things than I can list or even discern, so I will simply record a big “thank you” here.


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© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of History and Philosophy of ScienceUniversity of CambridgeCambridgeUK

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