Biographical Information

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  • Born on September 6, 1766, in Eaglesfield, Cumberland County, England
  • Son of a Quaker weaver
  • Suffers from colour blindness
  • Was educated at a Quaker school, where he taught at age 12
  • Moved to Kendal in 1781 to teach at another school
  • Went to Manchester in 1793 to teach at the New College and as a private tutor
  • Died in Manchester on July 27, 1844 at age 78

Major Contributions

  • First work, Meteorological Observations and Essays, was published in 1793, with very little interest
  • Most important scientific contribution was his atomic theory, which he first advanced in 1803 and published in 1808 in the book A New System of Chemical Philosophy
  • It states that all elements are made of tiny particles called atoms
  • All atoms of an element are identical
  • The atoms of an element are different from the atoms of another element
  • Atoms of different elements can combine to form more complex substances
  • Also discovered Dalton’s Law, where the total pressure exerted by a mixture of gases is equal to the sum of the pressures of the separate gases

Historical and Social Context

  • Before discovering the atomic theory, he already has notable scientific reputation
  • Invited to deliver courses at the Royal Institution in London
  • Made a fellow of the Royal Society in 1822 and awarded the society’s gold medal in 1826
  • Became one of eight foreign associates at the French Academy of Sciences in 1830
  • In 1833, he was conferred a pension of 150 pounds, which was raised to 300 pounds three years alter
  • Many chemists and biochemists use the unit Dalton in honour of him to denote one atomic mass
  • Rated 32nd most influential person in history by Michael H. Hart in his book The 100

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