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By the end of this section, you will be able to:
  • Outline milestones in the development of modern atomic theory
  • Summarize and interpret the results of the experiments of Thomson, Millikan, and Rutherford
  • Describe the three subatomic particles that compose atoms
  • Define isotopes and give examples for several elements

In the two centuries since Dalton developed his ideas, scientists have made significant progress in furthering our understanding of atomic theory. Much of this came from the results of several seminal experiments that revealed the details of the internal structure of atoms. Here, we will discuss some of those key developments, with an emphasis on application of the scientific method, as well as understanding how the experimental evidence was analyzed. While the historical persons and dates behind these experiments can be quite interesting, it is most important to understand the concepts resulting from their work.

Atomic theory after the nineteenth century

If matter were composed of atoms, what were atoms composed of? Were they the smallest particles, or was there something smaller? In the late 1800s, a number of scientists interested in questions like these investigated the electrical discharges that could be produced in low-pressure gases, with the most significant discovery made by English physicist J. J. Thomson using a cathode ray tube. This apparatus consisted of a sealed glass tube from which almost all the air had been removed; the tube contained two metal electrodes. When high voltage was applied across the electrodes, a visible beam called a cathode ray appeared between them. This beam was deflected toward the positive charge and away from the negative charge, and was produced in the same way with identical properties when different metals were used for the electrodes. In similar experiments, the ray was simultaneously deflected by an applied magnetic field, and measurements of the extent of deflection and the magnetic field strength allowed Thomson to calculate the charge-to-mass ratio of the cathode ray particles. The results of these measurements indicated that these particles were much lighter than atoms ( [link] ).

Figure A shows a photo of J. J. Thomson working at a desk. Figure B shows a photograph of a cathode ray tube. It is a long, glass tube that is narrow at the left end but expands into a large bulb on the right end. The entire cathode tube is sitting on a wooden stand. Figure C shows the parts of the cathode ray tube. The cathode ray tube consists of a cathode and an anode. The cathode, which has a negative charge, is located in a small bulb of glass on the left side of the cathode ray tube. To the left of the cathode it says “High voltage” and indicates a positive and negative charge. The anode, which has a positive charge, is located to the right of the cathode. Two charged plates are located to the right of the anode, and are connected to a battery and two magnets. The magnets are labeled “S” and “N.” A cathode ray is generated from the cathode, travels through the anode and into a wider part of the cathode ray tube, where it travels between a positively charged electrode plate and a negatively charged electrode plate. The ray bends upward and continues to travel until it hits the wide part of the tube on the right. The rightmost end of the tube contains a printed scale that allows one to measure how much the ray was deflected.
(a) J. J. Thomson produced a visible beam in a cathode ray tube. (b) This is an early cathode ray tube, invented in 1897 by Ferdinand Braun. (c) In the cathode ray, the beam (shown in yellow) comes from the cathode and is accelerated past the anode toward a fluorescent scale at the end of the tube. Simultaneous deflections by applied electric and magnetic fields permitted Thomson to calculate the mass-to-charge ratio of the particles composing the cathode ray. (credit a: modification of work by Nobel Foundation; credit b: modification of work by Eugen Nesper; credit c: modification of work by “Kurzon”/Wikimedia Commons)

Based on his observations, here is what Thomson proposed and why: The particles are attracted by positive (+) charges and repelled by negative (−) charges, so they must be negatively charged (like charges repel and unlike charges attract); they are less massive than atoms and indistinguishable, regardless of the source material, so they must be fundamental, subatomic constituents of all atoms. Although controversial at the time, Thomson’s idea was gradually accepted, and his cathode ray particle is what we now call an electron    , a negatively charged, subatomic particle with a mass more than one thousand-times less that of an atom. The term “electron” was coined in 1891 by Irish physicist George Stoney, from “ electr ic i on .”

Questions & Answers

following processes: Solid phosphorus pentachloride decomposes to liquid phosphorus trichloride and chlorine gas b. Deep blue solid copper(II) sulfate pentahydrate is heated to drive off water vapor to form white solid copper(II) sulfate
Hisham Reply
How to know periodic table oftend
Ahmed Reply
how to get atomic number of an element
Ogunleye Reply
how do you solve the examples in a much more explanatory way
The reaction of aceto nitrile with propane in the presence of the acid
Explain this paragraph in short
Manish Reply
What is solid state?
Manish Reply
What is chemical reaction
transforming reactants to product(s)
Example of Lewis acid
Chidera Reply
Example of Lewis acid
Anything with an empty orbital... the hydrogen ion is the most common example. BH3 is the typical example, but any metal in a coordination complex can be considered a Lewis acid.
okay thanks
aluminium and sulphur react to give aluminium sulfide.How many grams of Al are required to produce 100g of aluminium sulphide
Soni Reply
aluminium and sulphur react to give aluminium sulphide how many grams of Al are required to produce 100g of aluminium sulphide?
aluminium and sulphur react to give aluminium sulphide how many grams of Al are required to produce 100g of aluminium sulphide?
150 comes from?
thank you very much
molar mass of Al2S3
Why can't atom be created or destroyed
Jacaranda Reply
matter simply converts to pure energy
that's nice
explain how to distinguish ethanol from a sample of ethanoic acid by chemical test
Alice Reply
explain how ethanol can be distinguished from ethanoic acid by chemical test
Using a suitable experiment, describe how diffusion occurs in gases.
Melody Reply
when the excited energy which are in gaseous state collides with another to liberate from one place to another
what is electrolytes?
charity Reply
substance which splits into ions during melting or dissolving
on passing electric current though electrode
what is a radical
Jacob Reply
State that use law of partial pressure in a gas jar containing a gas and water what is the total pressure composed of 272cm^3 of carbon (iv) oxide were collected over water at15°c and 782mmHg pressure. calculate the volume of the dry gas at stp(SVP of water at 15°c is 12mmHg)
Aminat Reply
was Dalton's second postulate"atoms of the same kind have have similar/same mass and size" Or " the one mentioned in B here?
Maureen Reply
Practice Key Terms 6

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Source:  OpenStax, Chemistry. OpenStax CNX. May 20, 2015 Download for free at http://legacy.cnx.org/content/col11760/1.9
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