Friday, December 16, 2011

The Bohr model of the atom...spread the word


The emergence of quantum theory in the early decades of the twentieth century was accompanied by a wide range of popular science books, all of which presented in words and in images new scientific ideas about the structure of the atom. The work of physicists such as Ernest Rutherford and Niels Bohr, among others, was pivotal to the so-called planetary model of the atom, which, still today, is used in popular accounts and in science textbooks. In an attempt to add to our knowledge about the popular trajectory of the new atomic physics, this paper examines one book in particular, coauthored by Danish science writer Helge Holst and Dutch physicist and close collaborator of Niels Bohr, Hendrik A. Kramers. Translated from Danish into four European languages, the book not only presented contemporary ideas about the quantum atom, but also went into rather lengthy discussions about unresolved problems. Moreover, the book was quite explicit in identifying the quantum atom with the atom as described by Bohr’s theory. We argue that Kramers and Holst’s book, along with other atomic books, was a useful tool for physicists and science popularisers as they grappled with the new quantum physics.

"Spreading the gospel: The Bohr atom popularised" by Helge Kragh and Kristian Hvidtfelt Nielsen

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