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Big moments in Chemistry

Here is a snapshot of some of the major scientists who have contributed to the development of ideas in Chemistry.


Robert Boyle (1661) can be considered as the Godfather of chemistry as his work was underpinned by experiment under controlled conditions, precision and accurate observation. His many experiments included the use of vegetable dyes as acid-base indicators and the use of flame tests to detect metals. His pioneering experiments demonstrated that air was essential for respiration, combustion and transmission of sound. He worked extensively on the compressibility of air and the relationship between volume and pressure now called Boyle’s Law or Ideal gas equation (PV = nRT). This resulted in his findings casting doubt on classical models and he came up with a new definition of the "element". His ideas changed people’s attitudes and paved the way for later scientists like Lavoisier to develop a new chemical revolution.


Antoine Lavoisier (1743-1794) is greatly regarded as the Father of modern chemistry. His work helped disprove the phlogiston theory and hence revolutionaries peoples scientific ideas. Antoine L. Lavoisier discovers that matter is neither created nor destroyed in chemical reactions, the law of conservation of mass. Antoine L. Lavoisier shows that oxygen and hydrogen can be burned together to form water and oxygen as the gas necessary for combustion.


Charles Coulomb worked on applied mechanics but he is best known for his work on electricity and magnetism. He discovered that given two particles separated by a certain distance, the force of attraction or repulsion is directly proportional to the product of the two charges and is inversely proportional to the distance between the two charges.


John Dalton (1803) proposes his atomic model based on ideas previously put forward by Democritus. His theory had three underlying propositions:

  1. All substances are made up of small indivisible particles called atoms
  2. The atoms of one element are exactly the same but are different from the atoms of other element
  3. Atoms combine in simple numerical proportions when elements react together.

Apart from his work on atomic theory Dalton also worked on meteorology, composition of gases and colour blindness.


Joseph John Thompson (aka J.J Thompson, 1897) discovered the electron in a series of experiments designed to study the nature of electric discharge in a high-vacuum cathode-ray tube. Thompson proposed the plum pudding model which consisted of a sphere of positive charges surrounded by electrons held together by electrostatic forces. His researches also resulted in the development of the mass spectrograph and influenced Ernest Rutherford’s research focus.


Ernest Rutherford (1871–1937) was responsible for the discovery of alpha and beta rays, he set forth the laws of radioactive decay, and identified alpha particles as helium nuclei important areas in the fields of radioactivity and nuclear physics. Rutherford’s experiments on the atom demonstrated a dense positively charged central core called the nucleus. Rutherford collaborated very well with other scientists for his discoveries.