The Discovery of the Proton

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John Dalton initially suggested that matter consisted of particles called atoms. According to him, atoms were unique and could not be altered or destroyed chemically and they could combine into the form of complex compounds. His works led to publication of his first list of relative atomic weights of elements in 1805. His theory failed to realize that some materials such as oxygen and nitrogen exist as molecules. Democritus theory was based on Democritus and held that all matter in any state (solid or liquid) are composed of atoms that are created individually and cannot be divided or separated in any scientific way. It also stated that various atoms may have various sizes without any specific method of determining their individual sizes (Whitten et al. 9). The two theories set the foundation for developments in study of matter, but failed to offer insight into thecomposition of the atom itself. The two theories were later improved by John Dalton, who suggested that atoms originating from different elements would easily be distinguished through various weights which they posses (Weinseinberg 13).

The Atomic Structure

The study of the atom was conducted by various scholars, the most notable being Niels Bohr. Niels postulated that the atom contained protons and neutrons held inside a central nucleus while electrons orbited the nucleus (Bortz 9). According to Bohr, the protons were located in the nucleus, which were inside an atom.Theexperiment carried out by Bohr depicted a small central region from which rays got deflected, showing a region of concentrated mass.

Experimental Discovery of Proton

Ernest Rutherford is often associated with the discovery of the proton in 1919, though really it was a gradual process based on the work of three physicists: Thomson, Chadwick and Rutherford. None of them can alone be given credit for the proton’s discovery, though Rutherford happened to be the first scientist to classify the proton, hence he is said to be the scientist who discovered it (Weinseinberg 16). This is despite the fact that the discovery of the proton happened through a series of discoveries, from Thomson’s 1897’s discovery of the electron, discovery of the nucleus by Rutherford in 1911, and the discovery of the neutron in 1911 by Chadwick. The scientists thus discovered that the positively charged particles were housed within the nucleus. Rutherford’s experiments helped discover protons. The experiments that Rutherford performed consisted of striking nitrogen gas with energetic alpha particles.

In the process, he noted that the scintillation detectors showed hydrogen nuclei signatures (Bortz 10). Rutherford thus concluded that the Nitrogen must have emitted the hydrogen nuclei and, therefore, must be made of them. Next, Rutherford shot alpha particles towards particles of Neon. In conclusion, he stated that the hydrogen nuclei made up the atoms, they had to be the building blocks. Through the experiments, the physicists indicated that the hydrogen nucleus formed a fundamental element in the structure of an atom. It was evident that the positive charges of the nucleus had a connection to an integer number of the hydrogen nuclei by comparing the masses of the nucleus to their charges. In the late 1920s, the hydrogen nuclei were constantly being referred to as the proton. The term is viewed to have been coined by Rutherford (Wilson 17).

Proton’s Role in Atom’s Function and Structure

A proton is positively charged with a charge of positive one and, therefore, provides the needed balance to retain an atom’s overall polarity. In a stable atom, there are as many protons as there are electrons. Each electron has one negative charge. This balance is essential for the atom’s chemical functionality and defines its reactivity.

Proton’s Role in Element Identification

The proton defines an element’s location in the periodic table because the sum of protons in a nucleus defines the atomic number. Each element in the periodic table occupies a special position which helps predict its chemical behavior (Weinseinberg 51).

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