What Order Did Scientists Develop the Atomic Theory?


Jane Flores

The atomic theory is the foundation of modern chemistry and physics. It explains the behavior of matter and how it interacts with energy.

The development of the atomic theory was not a single event but rather a series of discoveries made by many scientists over time. In this article, we will explore the order in which scientists developed the atomic theory.

Democritus (460-370 BC)

The first person to propose that all matter is made up of tiny, indivisible particles was the ancient Greek philosopher Democritus. He called these particles “atoms,” which comes from the Greek word “atomos” meaning indivisible.

John Dalton (1766-1844)

It wasn’t until much later that the atomic theory was developed further. In 1803, English scientist John Dalton proposed that all elements are made up of atoms, which are tiny, indestructible particles. He also proposed that atoms of different elements have different properties and combine in whole-number ratios to form compounds.

J.J. Thomson (1856-1940)

In 1897, British physicist J. Thomson discovered electrons while studying cathode rays in a vacuum tube. He proposed the “plum pudding” model of the atom, where negatively charged electrons were embedded in a positively charged sphere.

Ernest Rutherford (1871-1937)

In 1911, New Zealand physicist Ernest Rutherford conducted his famous gold foil experiment where he shot alpha particles at a thin sheet of gold foil and observed their deflection patterns on a fluorescent screen. His observations led him to propose that atoms have a small, dense nucleus surrounded by electrons.

Niels Bohr (1885-1962)

Danish physicist Niels Bohr built on Rutherford’s work and proposed his own model of the atom in 1913. He suggested that electrons orbit the nucleus in fixed energy levels, and that an electron can only move to a higher energy level by absorbing a specific amount of energy.

James Chadwick (1891-1974)

In 1932, British physicist James Chadwick discovered the neutron, a neutral particle found in the nucleus of atoms.

Murray Gell-Mann and George Zweig (1929-2019 and 1937-)

In the 1960s, American physicist Murray Gell-Mann and his colleague George Zweig independently proposed the quark model of the atom. They suggested that protons and neutrons are made up of even smaller particles called quarks.


In conclusion, the atomic theory has been developed over centuries by many scientists. Democritus first proposed the concept of atoms, but it wasn’t until John Dalton’s work in the early 1800s that it gained more traction.

J. Thomson discovered electrons, Rutherford proposed his model of the atom, Bohr built on Rutherford’s work with his own model, Chadwick discovered the neutron, and Gell-Mann and Zweig proposed the quark model. These discoveries have led to our current understanding of matter and how it interacts with energy.