General Physics Colloquium - Theodore Arabatzis: 'What is wrong with the received view of the discovery of the electron?'
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What is wrong with the received view of the discovery of the electron?
Department of Philosophy and History of Science University of Athens
It is a commonplace that J. J. Thomson discovered the electron in 1897. On this view, Thomson's measurement of the charge to mass ratio of the electron eliminated all doubt about its existence. In this talk I will argue that the portrayal of the introduction and legitimization of the electron as a sudden discovery episode is misleading and that the so-called “discovery of the electron” was an extended process, lasting from the early 1890s till the early 20th century, that involved scientists working in different areas, from the discharge of electricity through gases to spectroscopy and electromagnetic theory. I will suggest that the history of the electron should be understood as a gradual process of consensus formation within the scientific community, which led to the acceptance of the electron as a new and fundamental constituent of matter.