The History Of The Atom Part 1

Leucippus and Democritus

By Wing Chung Hau 13B

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Leucippus (c. 480 – c. 420 B.C.) and Democritus, his student (460-370 B.C.) were philosophers who were the first to be credited with coming up with an Atomic Theory. This was a theory that said that the world was made up of atoms. The word “atom” comes from the Greek word “atomon” which meant uncuttable, this was because when you cut up an object many times, eventually you will reach a point where it can no longer be cut up. It is now very small and it is the atom!

Their atomic theory stated that:

1. Matter is composed of atoms separated by empty space through which the atoms move.

2. Atoms are solid, homogeneous, indivisible, and unchangeable.

3. All apparent changes in matter result from changes in the groupings of atoms.

4. There are different kinds of atoms that differ in size and shape.

5. The properties of matter reflect the properties of the atoms the matter contains.

Leucippus and Democritus both thought that the world was made up of two things; the void and atoms. The atoms bounce around in the void and bounce into each other which cause reactions.


The above picture shows what the atom was thought to look like back in 400 B.C.


Above is an image of what Leucippus and Democritus thought happened to produce an atom. When you cut something such as clay in half, you’ll get two halves but if you keep cutting, you eventually reach the point where there is a particle of clay so small it can no longer be cut into something smaller. This is the atom and it is what makes up the world around us.

They thought that these atoms could not be destroyed, made or quantitatively changed; they also thought that these atoms were all made up of the same thing but each had different properties such shapes, arrangements, size, motion and position, and because of these different properties, the different objects in the world were made when the atoms collided with each other and joined together.

Democritus attempted to use taste as an explanation of his atom theory by saying the sensation of taste depended on the property of the atom such as sour taste from “angular atoms in twisted configurations” and sweet taste from “rounded atoms of moderate size”.

However, when Democritus came up with this idea, many of his fellow philosophers such as Aristotle, who was very popular, disputed it as he did not believe that the world was based on atoms moving through a vacuum and this lead to less advancement in the model of the atom for over 2000 years.


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