John Dalton English Chemist, Meteorologist, Physicist, Teacher. Brief biography of John Dalton, scientist and weather pioneer who established the modern concept of atoms known as Dalton’s Atomic Theory.
John Dalton established the concept that matter, comprised of chemical elements, was built on atoms. By firming up Antoine Lavoisier’s previous scientific findings a decade earlier, Dalton paved the way the “atomic theory of elements” concept that defines science today.
He is also famous for the “Law of Multiple Proportions” and “Dalton’s Law of Partial Pressures.”
Childhood Life of John Dalton
John Dalton was born on 5 or 6 September 1766 in the Cockermouth English Lake District to a Quaker tradesman family. He was always alert and inquisitive as a boy. At the age of 12, he was appointed teacher at his local school, and tutored in science by Elihu Robinson, a Quaker relative.
Three years later, he went on the far side of the lake at Kendal to teach at a boarding school. While there he was introduced to mathematics and natural sciences by John Gough, a blind philosopher. There he began to make meteorological observations.
Interest in the Weather
For the next 15 years, Dalton recorded numerous weather observations. He also collected marsh gas, but it was his observation of gases that first planted the seeds of atomic theory in his mind.
Dalton was the first to realize that atmospheric moisture turns to rainfall not as a result of pressure changes, but because of reductions in temperature, reducing the air’s capacity to hold water vapour. He is credited for “Dalton’s Law of Partial Pressures.”
The World of Elements
Dalton contributed a series of papers to the Manchester Society of which he became president in 1817, a post he held for the rest of his life. He developed and wrote about his atomic theory of matter. Dalton claimed that the elements, including hydrogen, oxygen and nitrogen, are made up of atoms – the key idea that chemists had been looking for. His theory was immediately accepted and became the focus of most chemical research.
In the early 1800s, he announced his “Law of Multiple Proportions” and published his atomic weights and symbols list.
A Humble Hero Honored
Dalton literally committed his life to his science. He never married. Prior to his experiences, he was already loved as a teacher. With the success of his atomic theory his reputation and popularity soared, but he remained a simple man, dressed in the plain Quaker style.
In 1810, his scientific achievements were recognized with an invitation to join the Royal Society. Short of money he declined it, but in 1822, the society elected him a member and paid his election fee. The French Academy of Sciences made him the only permitted foreign member.
Dalton and his brother found out they had colour blindness in the middle of his life. In his will he asked for his eyes to be examined for possible physical cause. None was found. He died of a stroke on July 27, 1844, aged 78. The people of Manchester gave him a state funeral.
Books by John Dalton
- Meteorological Observation and Essays, 1793
- Law of Partial Pressure of Gases, 1802
- A New System of Chemical Philosophy, Part I & II, 1808