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John Dalton Biography Essay

1454 words - 6 pages

John Dalton Biography

Born: September 6, 1766

Died: July 27, 1844

Age: 78

Description: British chemist and physicist who developed the atomic
theory of matter and hence in known as one of the fathers of modern
physical science.

Dalton was the son of a Quaker weaver. When only 12 he took charge of
a Quaker school in Cumberland and two years later taught with his
brother at a school in Kendal, where he was to remain for 12 years. He
then became a teacher of mathematics and natural philosophy at New
College in Manchester. The doors of Cambridge and Oxford being open at
that time only to members of the Church of England. He resigned this
position in 1800 to become secretary of the Manchester Literary and
Philosophical Society and served as a public and private teacher of
mathematics and chemistry. In 1817 he became president of the
Philosophical Society, an honorary office that he held until his

In the early days of his teaching, Dalton's way of life was influenced
by a wealthy Quaker, who interested him in the problems of mathematics
and meteorology. His first scientific work, which he began in 1787 and
continued until the end of his life, was to keep a diary - which was
ultimately to contain 200,000 entries - of meteorological observations
recording the changeable climate of the lake district in which he
lived. He then became interested in preparing collections of botanical
and insect species. Stimulated by a spectacular aurora display in
1788, he began observations about aurora phenomena - luminous,
sometimes coloured displays in the sky caused by electrical
disturbances in the atmosphere. His writings on the aurora borealis
reveal independent thinking unhampered by the conclusions of others.
As Dalton himself notes, "Having been in my progress so often misled
by taking for granted the results of others, I have determined to
write as little as possible but what I can attest by my own
experience." In his work on the aurora he concluded that some
relationship must exist between the aurora beams and the Earth's
magnetism: "Now, from the conclusions in the preceding sections, we
are under the necessity of considering the beams of the aurora
borealis of a ferruginous iron-like nature, because nothing else is
known to be magnetic, and as a result, that there exists in the higher
regions of the atmosphere an elastic fluid partaking of the properties
of iron, or rather of magnetic steel, and that this fluid, doubtless
from its magnetic property, assumes the form of cylindric beams."

Some of his studies in meteorology led him to conclusions about the
origin of trade winds involving the Earth's rotation and variation in
temperature - unaware, perhaps, that this theory had already been
proposed in 1735 by George Hadley. These are only some of the subjects

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