in Image and Reality

Published by University of Chicago Press

Published in print May 2010 | ISBN: 9780226723327
Published online March 2013 | e-ISBN: 9780226723358 | DOI:

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A paper by Alexander Williamson, read at the annual meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science in Edinburgh on August 3, 1850, was groundbreaking in a lot of ways. As the first of an important series of papers on the formation of ethers, the constitutions of molecules, and reaction dynamics, Williamson's work would radically alter chemical theory. Whether consciously or only instinctively, Williamson understood the importance of using vivid mental images to comprehend and explore molecular reality in scientific fashion. His intellectual formation was influenced in part by the British chemist Thomas Graham, who in 1833 announced his discovery of the law of gaseous diffusion. Williamson discovered that he could form ether by reacting “ethylate of potash” (potassium ethoxide) with ethyl iodide. After his experiments on etherification, he published three papers charting the early stages of an investigative route toward the systematic conceptual dissection of organic compounds, offering the promise of a secure pathway into organic chemistry.

Keywords: Alexander Williamson; ethers; molecules; etherification; reaction dynamics; mental images; Thomas Graham; organic compounds; organic chemistry; chemical theory

Chapter.  14380 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: History of Science and Technology

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