Through his study of gases, John Dalton arrived at some of the most important theoretical concepts in modern chemistry. He established a system whereby relative particle weights can be obtained from available chemical data. In addition, he devised a simple system of rules for chemical combination. Dalton also provided a framework for a system of atomic symbolism. His atomic theory is very useful for explaining a wide variety of physical and chemical phenomena.
Some have called John Dalton the father of the atomic theory of chemistry (1:83). His exact birth date is unknown. By his death in 1844 at the age 78, Dalton had devised some of the most fundamental ideas of modern chemistry (3:984). Indeed, many view the scientist as one of the founders of modern chemistry.
John Dalton was not the first investigator to hypothesize on the atomic nature of matter. Early nineteenth century atomistic ideas can be traced back several centuries. However, while atomism may be "as old as the Greeks," it wasn't until 1417 that the concepts were reintroduced to European thought. That year marked the rediscovery of Lucretius' philosophical exposition, De rerum natura. By the late sixteenth century, this poem on atomism had been widely disseminated. By the eighteenth century, atomic ideas were commonplace. While such concepts were often vague and rarely quantified, they did attract the attention of chemists (4:106-121).
Improvements in chemical technique and experimental apparatus from the seventeenth century onwards provided investigators with considerable chemical information. This progress, however, also created the need for unifying principles. As more data became available, chemists looked for a simple, predictive system of organization. Although ideas about the particulate nature of matter were widely accepted, scientists still required techniques for dealing quantitatively with both individual chemical elements an...