School of Historical and Philosophical Studies - Theses

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    The role of symbols in the development of chemistry to 1916 : with, A dictionary of chemical terms (1600-1800)
    Bryant, Frederick ( 1966)
    The Oxford English Dictionary offers a number of meanings for the word symbol; "Something that stands for, represents, or denotes something else (not by exact resemblance, but by vague suggestion, or by some accidental or conventional relation).... a material object representing or taken to represent something immaterial or abstract ...... a written character or mark used to represent something: a letter, figure or sign conventionally standing for some object, process." When chemistry is taught today it is presented with its symbols developed and the rules of their combinations defined. However, in reaching this stage the chemist's symbols at various times have had the meanings listed above. Chemists and historians of chemistry have discussed the roles and origins of symbols only to a very limited extent. The aim if this thesis is to provide a chronological review of the use of chemical symbols beginning with the exoteric alchemical symbols and concluding with electron theory bonds. We shall show how this use varied from the time when empirical shorthand characters were employed to the time when formulae or combinations of symbols were used as structural diagrams of molecules written in conformity with rules provided by a theory of composition. This association of formulae and rules for their construction will be examined against the often uncertain and disputed nineteenth century background of atoms, radicals and valence. I shall include in this background two examples of mathematical interests in formulae, which have been almost completely ignored by historians of chemistry. They are Bridle's calculus and Sylvester's quantities.