Spheres from Dalton to Loschmidt

Insights into the Ways of Thinking of a Genius
  • Günter P. Schiemenz


In his famous paper on the size of air molecules1, Joseph Loschmidt in 1865 solved a problem which had already been raised by John Dalton but which had been considered unsolvable. Loschmidt managed to put forward his arguments in a way which could be followed by his readers. The contents of his paper proved that he was a genius, and its form demonstrated that he was a gifted teacher. His pedagogic abilities were already called for when he was teaching at a secondary school in Vienna, and it was during that period that, in 1861, his booklet Chemische Studien, I 2 appeared. It is reasonable to assume that in this booklet, too, he was able to outline clearly what he wished to say, and, consequently, we have to draw the reverse conclusion that he wished to keep silence on that which he did not say. In order to be understood, he had to use language with which his readers were familiar, and when he used symbols without definitions or comments, he must have considered such explanations unnecessary. Thus it is safe to infer that he used these symbols in the very sense his readers would interpret them anyway. The readers were, of course, his contemporaries and not late 20th century historians of science. The latter must be careful to evaluate Loschmidt’s papers only on the basis of the situation of the time of publication, and they must refrain from inferring any later concepts.


Cinnamic Acid Atomic Weight Fumaric Acid Triple Bond Atomic Sphere 
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    Here, this comparison is intended to be strictly descriptive. Cf., however, Loschmidt’s concept of the spherical molecules behaving as completely elastic spheres (vide supra), Dalton assuming his spherical smallest particles to arrange themselves like the pellets of a heap of small shot (1812, vol. 1, p. 211) and Stöckhardt, evidently drawing upon Dalton, comparing atoms with lead pellets (ref. 10, 12th ed., 1861, p. 322).Google Scholar
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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 1997

Authors and Affiliations

  • Günter P. Schiemenz
    • 1
  1. 1.Institut für Organische ChemieUniversität KielGermany

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