Undergraduate Honors Theses

Thesis Defended

Spring 2018

Document Type

Thesis

Type of Thesis

Departmental Honors

Department

Physics

First Advisor

Allan Franklin

Second Advisor

Paul Beale

Third Advisor

Tiziana Vistarini

Abstract

1897-1914 was a period of rapid scientific progress with respect to atomic modeling. In just seventeen years Thomson, Rutherford, and Bohr would transform the world’s conception of the atom from a simple, indivisible building block of matter to a semi-classical, complex system of interacting positive and negatively charged particles that could explain experimentally observed phenomena ranging from the periodicity of the elements to the large angle scattering of α-particles and the atomic spectrum of hydrogen. After offering a detailed historical investigation of this period, this thesis considers whether any of the events of period constituted a Kuhnian scientific revolution. In particular, I argue that certain difficulties in analyzing this period using Kuhn’s theory suggest that, instead of analyzing this period in Kuhnian terms, we should revise Kuhn’s theory of scientific revolution in light of the events of this period. In doing so, I argue that scientific revolutions actually occur in two main varieties, which can be articulated in terms of two of the main analogies Kuhn offered to explain his theory of scientific revolution. Further, I show that this revision allows us to take a thoroughly realist (though fallibilist) approach to scientific progress, scientific revolution, and science as a whole.

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