Josef Loschmidt and the Reality of Molecules

  • Henk Kubbinga


Molecular theory is an invention of the 17th century1. Thanks to Georg-Ernst Stahl (1660–1734) and Isaac Newton (1642–1727) it became a leading theme during the 18th century. In the work of Pierre-Simon de Laplace (1749–1827) molecular theory became molecularism, in the sense that it replaced ancient atomism. The cosmogony of Laplace, as developed in his Exposition du système du monde (1796), was indeed a climax: it offered an image of the emergence of solar systems in exclusively molecular terms and may be considered therefore as the molecular counterpart of Lucretius’ atomistic vision of the universe.


Free Path Specific Volume Kinetic Theory Molecular Theory Spherical Molecule 
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  1. 1.
    H.H. Kubbinga, L’Histoire du concept de « molécule » (jusqu’à c.1925), habilitation thesis, Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales, Paris, June 1996.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    J. Loschmidt, Zur Grösse der Luftmolecüle, Sitzungsber.Kais.Akad.Wiss.Wien, Math.Naturwiss.Classe 52, 395 (1866).Google Scholar
  3. J. Loschmidt, Preprint summary: Schlömilchs Z.Mathem. Physik 10, 511 (1865).Google Scholar
  4. 3.
    Loschmidt is, of course, conscious of what we now know as ‘Avogadro’s law’: “Bekanntlich sind in der Raumeinheit bei gleicher Temperatur und gleichem Drucke von allen gasförmigen Körpern gleichviel Molecüle enthalten.” This was a necessary consequence of the general gas law (pV = 1/3.nmv2) as derived by Herapath, Krönig and Clausius.Google Scholar
  5. 4.
    Loschmidt only considers cubic (1:1.91) and face-centered cubic (1:1.17) arrangements.Google Scholar
  6. 5.
    Cf. H.H.Kubbinga, Some aspects of the status of molecularism in physics 1900–1915, in: D. Hoffmann (Ed.), The emergence of modern physics, Proc. of Congress at the Technical University of Berlin, 21–24 March 1995 (forthcoming).Google Scholar
  7. 6.
    O.E. Meyer, Die kinetische Theorie der Gase, 2nd edition, Maruschke & Berendt, Breslau 1899.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 1997

Authors and Affiliations

  • Henk Kubbinga
    • 1
    • 2
  1. 1.Faculty of PhilosophyUniversity of GroningenGroningenThe Netherlands
  2. 2.Laboratoire d’Histoire des Sciences et des TechniquesUPR 21 du CNRSParisFrance

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