September 3, 2012 = Dalton Introduces Atomic Symbols

– 1803 
Most things in nature are a big mash-up of all sorts of materials, and it took chemists and physicists years to figure out what it is, exactly, that makes up our world (and the universe).

English chemist and physicist John Dalton was a big part of figuring it all out. On this date in 1803 he wrote some notes on “ultimate particles” (also known as “atoms,” which aren't all that ultimate, after all, since we now know that atoms are made up of smaller particles). Dalton proposed the idea that there are fundamental kinds of stuff, called elements, and that each element is made up of atoms of different masses. Atoms of gold, for example, would be much heavier than atoms of hydrogen. As Dalton wrote about a variety of elements, he used symbols to represent each element.

And that's the first time that anyone used a symbol to represent an element!

We don't use Dalton's symbols anymore, but many of his symbols were initial letters surrounded by circles, such as S for silver, C for copper, and Z for zinc. We do use this general idea: nowadays, one or two letters (without the circle) is the symbol for each element.

Our modern symbology was created by Swiss scientist Jons Kakob Berzelius, and naturally he did not use English as the basis for his symbols, as Dalton did. Instead, he used the shared language of science of his time, Latin, as the basis for his symbols. Because of this Latin origin, some of our modern elemental symbols don't match up with the English names:

Iron = Fe           (ferrum)
Silver = Ag        (argentum)
Gold = Au         (aurum)
Lead = Pb         (plumbum)
Potassium = K  (kalium)
Copper = Cu     (cuprum)
Antimony = Sb  (stibium)
Mercury = Hg    (hydrargyrum)
Tungsten = W   (wolfram)
Tin = Sn            (stannum)
Sodium = Na     (natrium)

By the way...
Today the shared language of science is English.

Also on this date:

No comments:

Post a Comment