Summarizes primary sources and existing scholarly work on Dalton's atomic theory and the system of chemical equivalents used during the first half of the nineteenth century. Rocke demontrates that early nineteenth century chemists made a practical and ontological distinction between chemical and physical atoms.
Hermann Kopp (1817-1892) is best remembered today as a historian of chemistry, but during his lifetime he was one of the most eminent chemists of his day, and one of the earliest pioneers of physical chemistry. Late in his career he wrote an endearing fantasy about personified molecules. Published in 1882, Aus der Molecular-Welt (From the Molecular World) portrayed the intimate details of what might actually be happening in the sub-microscopic world; the atoms and molecules we meet there have agency, personalities, sometimes even dialog. Filled with appealing tropes, humor, and whimsical asides, Kopp's short book provided an examination of the chemistry and physics of his day that was always light-hearted on the surface, but often surprisingly profound. Properly interpreted, the book provides a revealing tour of nineteenth-century debates concerning chemical theory. It is here translated into English, richly annotated, and equipped with an illuminating preface by a leading historian of chemistry. It provides entertaining reading to practicing chemists, as well as new insights to historians of science.
Nineteenth-century chemists were faced with a particular problem: how to depict the atoms and molecules that are beyond the direct reach of our bodily senses. In visualizing this microworld, these scientists were the first to move beyond high-level philosophical speculations regarding the unseen. In Image and Reality, Alan Rocke focuses on the community of organic chemists in Germany to provide the basis for a fuller understanding of the nature of scientific creativity. Arguing that visual mental images regularly assisted many of these scientists in thinking through old problems and new possibilities, Rocke uses a variety of sources, including private correspondence, diagrams and illustrations, scientific papers, and public statements, to investigate their ability to not only imagine the invisibly tiny atoms and molecules upon which they operated daily, but to build detailed and empirically based pictures of how all of the atoms in complicated molecules were interconnected. These portrayals of “chemical structures,” both as mental images and as paper tools, gradually became an accepted part of science during these years and are now regarded as one of the central defining features of chemistry. In telling this fascinating story in a manner accessible to the lay reader, Rocke also suggests that imagistic thinking is often at the heart of creative thinking in all fields. Image and Reality is the first book in the Synthesis series, a series in the history of chemistry, broadly construed, edited by Angela N. H. Creager, John E. Lesch, Stuart W. Leslie, Lawrence M. Principe, Alan Rocke, E.C. Spary, and Audra J. Wolfe, in partnership with the Chemical Heritage Foundation.
After looking at the early careers of Wurtz's two mentors, Liebig and Jean-Baptiste Dumas, Rocke describes Wurtz's life and career in the politically complex period leading up to 1853. He then discusses the turning point in Wurtz's intellectual life--his conversion to the "reformed chemistry" of Laurent, Gerhardt, and Williamson--and his efforts to persuade his colleagues of the advantages of the new system. In 1869, Adolphe Wurtz (1817-1884) called chemistry "a French science." In fact, however, Wurtz was the most internationalist of French chemists. Born in Strasbourg and educated partly in the laboratory of the great Justus Liebig, he spent his career in Paris, where he devoted himself to introducing German ideas into French scientific circles. His life therefore provides an excellent vehicle for considering the divergent trajectories of French and German chemistry--and, by extension, French and German science--during this crucial period. After looking at the early careers of Wurtz's two mentors, Liebig and Jean-Baptiste Dumas, Rocke describes Wurtz's life and career in the politically complex period leading up to 1853. He then discusses the turning point in Wurtz's intellectual life--his conversion to the "reformed chemistry" of Laurent, Gerhardt, and Williamson--and his efforts (social and political, as well as scientific) to persuade his colleagues of the advantages of the new system. He looks at political patronage, or the lack thereof, and at the insufficient material support from the French government, during the middle decades of the century. From there Rocke goes on to examine the rivalry between Wurtz and Marcellin Berthelot, the debate over atoms versus equivalents, and the reasons for Wurtz's failure to win acceptance for his ideas. The story offers insights into the changing status of science in this period, and helps to explain the eventual course of both French and German chemistry.
Organic chemist Hermann Kolbe (1818-1884) is the subject of this vigorously contextualized biography, which combines the approaches of cognitive and social history of science. Kolbe was one of the most outstanding chemists during the remarkable period in which German science, like the wider manifestations of German industrial and political power, rose to a position of world dominance. Rocke portrays Kolbe as a leading actor in the transformation of the institutional and pedagological dimensions of the physical sciences, as well as in the rapid growth of technologically powerful pure sciences. In all these areas there was a sharp inflection point around 1860 when, as Rocke persuasively argues, the primary discipline in the drama was organic chemistry.