Oh, the places we will go! The chapter starts with a paragraph describing the diversity of places we will visit as we “travel with the atom”. This is followed by a brief overview of the history of the atomic concept starting with the Greek philosophers and alchemists. The slow and winding pathway to the modern atom has resulted in a model that is almost certainly not the final truth about the nature of matter. Scientific/historical traveling, and specifically “Traveling with the Atom”, is an example of traveling with a focus. Such traveling takes planning, correspondence and resources. Specific resources are described in several detailed paragraphs. The general organization of the 19 chapters is briefly described including the initial “Quick Look at Places to Visit” with ratings, a box summarizing the relevant aspects of the history of the atom, background on the relevant natural philosophers or scientists and their discoveries, a detailed list of places to visit including charts and coordinates, a brief summary, and a list of references and suggestions for further reading.
1.1 An Overview of “European Travels with the Atom”
This is a book about traveling in Europe to visit places related to one of the most carefully researched and enduring ideas in human history: the atomic concept. These places include: homesteads, birthplaces, graveyards, squares, statues, mines, universities, laboratories, museums, libraries, lecture halls, apartments, individual rooms, estates, cathedrals, abbeys, and even castles in some of the most picturesque rural areas, charming small towns and villages, ordinary working-class municipalities, and elegant and romantic cities in Europe.
The idea of atoms has been in the human consciousness for at least 25 centuries, and most likely longer than that. Starting in the fourth century BC, the Greek philosophers were among the first to conceive the atomic idea, but they were not of one mind on the nature of matter. That everything around us is a-tomic (made of in-divisible or un-cuttable particles called “atoms”) was only one avenue of Grecian thought. Without experimental or observational evidence, their arguments could continue quite unfettered without hope of resolution.
Alchemists, in the pursuit of the “philosopher's stone” (to produce gold and silver from a base metal such as lead) or the “elixir of life” (the fountain of youth) also tried to visualize the structure of matter in order to discern how they could best attain their goals. For several millennia they stirred many a pot, roasted every imaginable solid to red- and white-heats, and distilled solutions of every color, odor, and texture. They devised esoteric pieces of equipment (retorts, calcinators, alembics, mortars and pestles, for example) in pursuit of these goals and, in so doing, started to construct the experimental underpinnings of the discipline of chemistry. The atomic idea can be traced back through the often mystical shrouds of alchemical works, but the evidence is fleeting and tenuous, particularly to those of us who are not historians of science specializing in such times and practices.
The path from alchemy to today's ideas about atoms is anything but a straightforward march to an inevitable and final “truth”. Indeed, atoms represent an idea that presently works to explain vast aspects of the nature of matter, but it is not inconceivable that it will be replaced by other ideas in the future. Perhaps people in 3020 AD will speak of atoms as an archaic idea that they regard somewhat pejoratively alongside geocentrism, animal magnetism, and phlogistonism (see Chapter 8 for a discussion of phlogistonism). The history of the atomic concept is not one of amassing one dry experimental fact after another, marching inexorably to the grand atomic idea. Rather, this pathway is characterized by ingenious experiments and clear-headed observations, as well as serendipitous accidents and irrelevant or ill-conceived manipulations; by great insights, as well as wrong-headed ideas; by persuasive arguments from humble men and women, as well as pig-headed opinions driven by big egos; by logical discussions, papers, and meetings, as well as personal attacks, stinging diatribes, and heated debates. This book, while principally about places to visit in Europe related to the history of atomic theory, will discuss these experiments and ideas, as well as the people responsible for them when such a discussion adds to the experience of traveling. We will explore these conceptual and experimental landmarks on the way to the atomic concept as they relate to the physical landmarks that have been preserved all over the European continent to commemorate this achievement, which is often compared to the most compelling of human ideas.
We travel for a wide variety of reasons, most of which are related to visiting places and people outside our usual experiences. We have always appreciated grand seaside or mountainous vistas, bucolic countrysides, ornate palaces, unspoiled villages and towns, and the great cities of the past and present. Many of us want to become thoroughly familiar with, even totally immersed in, the cultures, customs and languages of the European nations. By understanding people in other countries we hope to better understand our own country and, indeed, ourselves.
One of the most enjoyable ways to travel is to do so with a particular focus. Sometimes this is a geographical area – a country or a group of countries, or a river such as the Rhine, Thames, or Danube, or a mountain range such as the Pyrenees, Dolomites, or Alps. Increasingly, travelers delight in concentrating on an area of human endeavor – perhaps art, architecture, music or literature; perhaps wars, battlefronts, empires, or kingdoms; perhaps cuisines, wines, or (one of the author's favorites) beers. Others concentrate on physical activities such as biking, skiing, walking, or hiking. For many of us, traveling with one or several of these purposes in mind is the most attractive way for us to organize our trips. This book is about one of those purposes, which could be described under the general heading of “scientific/historical traveling – traveling with a focus on science and the history of science”. Traveling with the Atom is scientific/historical traveling with an emphasis on the history of the atomic concept.
Traveling with a purpose starts with doing our homework, so that we know a great deal about the attractions available in the regions that we will be visiting. Of course, doing such research makes great economic sense. Traveling today is an expensive proposition, so it makes sense to maximize our experience by reading, web surfing, e-mailing, blogging, and talking with fellow travelers as we prepare for a trip. However, there's an even better reason for making such extensive preparations. For many people, doing this research is more than half the fun – it builds anticipation and enthusiasm for a trip so that it becomes one of the landmarks of our lives – something we will never forget. It doesn't really matter what the purpose is: art, music, scenic geography, architecture, history, atomic history – whatever! The important thing is to choose a few topics and research them. This book about traveling with the atom will be a good resource in your personal travel research. Such research involves being sure that you know the significance of a discovery, experiment, or theory and the biographical background of the workers principally responsible for that work. This book will be a starting point but, to be truly prepared, it will be best to augment and sharpen the focus on your own. Use the internet, perhaps join a discussion group or two, and identify some like-minded folks in places you will be visiting and start a correspondence with some of them. The latter may sound a little risky but you will be sitting at your computer at home or in your favorite coffee shop writing a note to someone in a European country. You have nothing to lose. Be polite (remember The Ugly American) and perhaps just a little humble. Don't be afraid to share some of the results of your research with these new correspondents. Perhaps suggest that you meet at a particular site during your trip and/or that you share a cup of coffee or tea or even a meal together in a place of their choosing and perhaps as your treat. I have done this a number of times and the results always add to my enjoyment of the trip both for me and those who travel with me. The research that you do and the contacts that you make as a result will invariably enrich your traveling experience as well. My wife and I have been doing this for more than 20 years now. It is a great way to travel.
As you start your research in scientific/historical traveling, there are several books, pamphlets, articles, and series of articles that you should know about. Let's start with the books. Perhaps the best on general scientific/historical traveling is The Scientific Traveler: A Guide to the People, Places and Institutions of Europe by Charles Tanford and Jacqueline Reynolds.1 It covers all the mainline sciences including archaeology, biology, chemistry, geology, medicine, and physics. Published in 1992, it is organized by countries grouped into regions of Europe. For example, the section on “Western Europe” has chapters on England, Scotland, Ireland, France, and the Netherlands. Each chapter starts with a chronological description and explanation of the science developed there and ends with a “Principal Places to Visit” section that includes street addresses and other guides useful to finding the site. In 1995, these two authors also published A Travel Guide to Scientific Sites of the British Isles: A Guide to the People, Places and Landmarks of Science.2 It also is organized in two parts: the first on the scientific topics themselves and the second on “places to visit”. These are fun books with much valuable information, although they are nearly 25 years old. Another book on the British Isles is Our Scientific Heritage: An A–Z of Great Britain and Ireland (Science, Technology, Archaeology, Medicine, Engineering)3 by Trevor Williams, published in 1996. This is an alphabetical listing of places, with descriptions of birthplaces, museums, forts, mines, mills, stone circles, and so forth. It has longer sections on Cambridge, London, Manchester, and Oxford, as well as useful locator maps for various regions. Another small book that you might be able to obtain if you are lucky is Guide to Museums with Collections on History of Chemistry,4 compiled by Jan W. Van Spronsen. Published in 1996, each page lists a museum, contact information, and a general description of the museum. More recently, there is Science History: A Traveler's Guide,5 published in 2014 by the American Chemical Society and edited by Mary Virginia Orna. This is a collection of articles covering all of the sciences with chapters on the United Kingdom, Paris, Italy, Scandinavia, and Germany. Finally, there is the work of James and Virginia Marshall, working out of the University of North Texas.They have published a variety of CDs and books over the years. The best source of their comprehensive work is the “Rediscovery of the Elements”.6 (Although our topic is traveling in Europe, you might also enjoy America's Scientific Treasures, A Travel Companion7 by Paul S. Cohen and Brenda H. Cohen published in 1998.)
Besides the above books on scientific/historical traveling, there is a seminal article published in Chemtech, entitled “Chemistry Museums in Europe” by John H. Wotiz,8 that every traveler interested in the history of science should know about. Wotiz spent most of his career teaching at Southern Illinois University and led a series of European travel and study courses for the better part of 30 years. In the Chemtech article he describes the museums in Europe that he often included in those trips. One of the best elements of this article is a “Directory of European History of Chemistry Museums”, which includes a short description and a few comments about each one and then, uniquely as far as I can tell, a rating system from one to five. A local science library may very well have the journal Chemtech available, or perhaps you can order it by interlibrary loan. Wotiz also published an excellent article in 1972 in the Journal of Chemical Education entitled “The Evolution of Modern Chemistry, an European Travel and Study Course”.9 If you would like to know a little more of what it was like to travel with the Wotiz group, see “A View from the Cockpit: A Mid-Summer's ‘Flight’ through Chemical Europe”, by Leigh Wilson, in the ACS's Science History: A Traveler's Guide.10 According to an obituary that appeared in 2001 after they died together in an automobile accident, John Wotiz and his wife Kay tried “to visit every place on the earth before they could no longer travel”. A worthy ambition, that.
There is a continuing series of articles that has appeared fairly regularly in the journal Physics in Perspective that goes by the general title “The Physical Tourist”. The articles cover history of science traveling sites in Ireland, Geneva, Copenhagen, Glasgow, New York City, Madrid, Berlin, Vienna, Cracow, “Lake Wobegon” (this is not a misprint), Paris, Munich, Los Alamos, and Cambridge, England. Some of these articles have been published as a book, The Physical Tourist: A Science Guide for the Traveler11 , edited by John S. Rigden and Roger H. Stuewer (Eds.), Birkhäuser Verlag AG, Basel, Boston, Berlin (2009).
The internet is also an invaluable source of travel information. As you are reading here you will no doubt want to “Google” some topics and start to amass the latest information and more details about the places you want to visit. Bookmarking these sites will soon yield a vast amount of information at your ready disposal. Many websites have been referred to in this book but these things change quickly so it will behoove you to use the key words and phrases you read about to do searches on your own.
The book is organized around countries, regions, and cities that have significant places – sometimes just a plaque or a statue or a grave, but other times truly wondrous places like a beautiful park, museum, apartment, institute, laboratory, or even a castle or cathedral – that honor, at least in part, some aspect of the development of the atom. Most often, these places are centered around a person or a small group of people. This person-centric approach to traveling with the atom is pretty much dictated by the way that the travel sites are set up on the ground. Chapters 2 through 7 are centered in the United Kingdom and Ireland and move from Southern Ireland (Chapter 2) to Western England (Chapter 3), Northern England (Chapter 4), and Scotland (Chapter 5). Specific cities are covered in various of these chapters. These include Dublin (Chapter 2), Leeds (Chapter 3), Manchester (Chapters 4 and 6), Glasgow and Edinburgh (Chapter 5), Cambridge (Chapters 3, 5, and 6), and London (Chapters 5, 6, and 7). Occasionally, we go to more remote places like the South Island of New Zealand and Montreal, Canada (Chapter 6). Chapter 7 is exclusively devoted to a scientific tour of Westminster Abbey.
Starting in Chapter 8 we move from the United Kingdom to the continent. Chapters 8 and 14 are centered in Paris and, occasionally, other parts of France. In Chapter 9 we move to Italy and Chapters 10 and 11 are centered in Germany and Austria. Chapter 12 is in Denmark; Chapters 13 to 16 take us to Germany, Poland, Switzerland, and France; Chapter 17 roams through Italy, Germany, Austria, and Sweden; and Chapter 18 is in Russia and Germany. At the end of the book, in Chapter 19, we will find ourselves in Stockholm, where the Nobel Prizes in the disciplines of Physics, Chemistry, Physiology, or Medicine (not the Peace Prize, which is given out in Oslo) have been awarded each year for more than a century. Our arrival there will allow us some opportunities to summarize the atomic story and our travels to see places that commemorate it in Europe and beyond. Also in this chapter, we will explore some of the complicated politics involved in awarding the Nobel Prizes relative to the atomic concept.
The two previous paragraphs give us a brief overview of the book's geographical organization. There are several other ways to get an overview of this organization. One of the best and quickest ways to get the lay of the land – or “the lay of the book”, if you like – is by looking at beginning and end of each chapter. Each chapter starts with a “Quick Look at Places to Visit” covered in the chapter. Borrowing from Wotiz, these “Quick Looks” embody a rating system to indicate the relative importance and drawing power of each place. The rating system is set up from one to five atoms . One-atom places are isolated markers, plaques, and some statues. Five-atom places represent the cream of the crop of “traveling with the atom” sites. If you have to choose, by all means hit the three-, four-, and five-atom spots first. This rating system for places is also incorporated in the narrative of each chapter. At the start of each chapter, the “Quick Looks” is immediately followed by a “gray box” which contains a summary of the relevant aspects of the history of the atom covered in that chapter. At the end of each chapter is a summary section where in one or two paragraphs the history and places covered in the chapter are discussed together.
Maps (called “charts” in this book) as well as longitude/latitude coordinates make a travel book more useful and therefore a better travel companion. Most chapters contain two, three, or even more charts of a given city or region. Coordinates are given when a given place to visit is discussed in the body of a chapter.
To make this book a good reference book, there are useful indices at the back. In addition to a general, comprehensive subject index, there is also a place index. The place index also indicates where places are shown on a chart. There is also a specialized appendix entitled, “A Traveler's Guide to the History of the Atom”, providing a chronological listing of events and people crucial to the history of the atom.