Biography of John Dalton

John Dalton

John Dalton was born in 1766 and died in 1844.

No other scientist has contributed his life and energy to the extent that John Dalton did in the service of Science. Therefore his name is the most revered among scientists. His contribution to atomic theory has made his name foremost of all scientists.
It was due to his hard work and years of research that led him to develop atomic theory. Today he is known as one of most important scientists of modern physical science.

John Dalton was not from a well-to-do family and was used to hardship and scarcity from a very early age. He took an interest in mathematics and meteorology from the time he was boy in school.

John Dalton made a serious study of meteorological observation and published a book on this subject in 1793 at the age of 27.
He also made a study of colour blindness which made him very popular in the scientific world.

Although John Dalton did not received higher education in chemistry, he spent about six years teaching the subject at new college.

He took scientific study very seriously and dedicated himself to research work to the best of his abilities.

He lived a very peaceful life and was almost a recluse as he didn’t have time for fun and gossip and therefore made very few friends.

His whole life was spent on scientific study, and the latter half of his life was spent on the study of gases. After years of study and experimentation, Dalton concluded that the total pressure of a mixture of gasses equal the sum of the pressures of the gasses in the mixture, and that each gas acts independently of the others.

John Dalton kept a diary in which he wrote every single scientific explanation in great detail. For him work was like a religion which he was devoted to and he hadn’t any time for anything else, so he shunned marriage and lived a lone as nothing must distract him from his life’s work. He lived a very simple and honest life and died peacefully in 1844.

John Dalton was born into a modest Quaker family at Eagles field; Cumberland in the north of England on 6th September 1766. He received his early education from his parents and was sent to a nearby Quaker school where he received elementary education. Here he came into close contact with a teacher named John Fletcher who realised John Dalton was a child prodigy and liked the boy and enjoyed teaching him. John Fletcher retired in 1778 and strongly recommended Dalton as his successor.At this time John Dalton was 12 years of age, but we must remember in those days children were working from the age of 11 or even less, so in effect he was a young adult. John Fletcher’s high recommendation helped Dalton to secure the teaching post, and Dalton took teaching seriously and performed his duties very well. He became popular among the students and teaching staff but Dalton ambitious and left after about two years.
He remained unemployed for quite a while and then decided to get engaged in farm work, while still working on the farm he still did extensive reading in his spare time and until late at night as he had a collection of high quality books.
During this time one of his relatives, Elihu Robinson,met Dalton at the farm and was much impressed by the limitless horizon of Dalton’s knowledge. So Robinson taught Dalton some basic mathematics and awoke a thirst in Dalton to know more.

John Dalton

John Dalton

Fired by the intense desire to learn more about mathematics Dalton left the farm and went to Kendal in 1781 at the age of 15. There he became a teacher at a school run by one of his cousins, George Bewley, and felt much happier as he had not enjoyed farming work which was hard manual work and did not require much intellect. Dalton enjoyed teaching the young boys and girls there who had lively minds and asked him clever questions which he always welcomed. Beside teaching Dalton continued to practise mathematics and conduct serious experiments. Dalton remained in this school for 12 years;he dedicated service brought him promotion to joint manager of the school in 1785 at the age of 19. His stint in this school as a teacher was outstanding and he was respected by the parents because Dalton not only taught the children academic subjects, he also taught them good manners and discipline.

Dalton remained at the Kendal school until 1793 when he decided to move to the big city of Manchester where he joined the Manchester academic and taught mathematics and natural philosophy. In Manchester Dalton admired a blind philosopher, John Gough, as the years passed by their friendship bloomed and Dalton gave Gough the credits for inspiring him to study science.

Dalton’s theories on the chemical combination of atoms made him popular throughout the world. He worked hard and reached the conclusion that a chemical combination takes place between particles of different weights, and he discovered that atoms of various elements can be combined to form compounds. He also stressed that atoms have unique characteristics that cannot be created, divided, or destroyed by any chemical process. The chemical process however can only change the combination of atoms. Dalton is highly regarded and remembered for his atomic theory that changed the codes of history in the year to come.

In 1840 Dalton prepared a well- researched paper on phosphates and arsenate and submitted it to Royal Society for publication. Te Royal Society rejected this paper as they thought it was not worth publishing, this decision was a terrible blow to Dalton but he was adamant and later published the paper himself.

Occasionally Dalton would visit neighbouring countries to meet up with his fellow scientists and read papers at scientific conferences. In 1822 Dalton visited Paris where he met several senior and budding scientists.In 1817 he was appointed the position of president of “The Literary and Philosophical Society.” The Royal Society of London awarded the first annual prize to Dalton in 1825.The British Association of Oxford presented him with an honorary DCL in 1832, and an a honorary LLD was conferred on him in 1834. A bust of Dalton was erected in the entrance of the Manchester Royal Institution to honor him.

The life and work of John Dalton was impressive and he left a great legacy to future aspiring young scientists. The world of science owes a great deal to Dalton as his tireless and selfless service to science paved the way to know more about the nature of atoms and atomic power that can be used for various proposes.

During Dalton’s stay in Kendal and Manchester he took serious interest in meteorology and kept a diary in which he entered 200,000 observations. After many years of intense of observation Dalton published “Meteorological Observations and essays” in 1793, although the book was very possibly the first of its kind, and it generated only a few sales. His next venture was entirely different and not related to his scientific work; he wrote and published ” Elements of English Grammar” in 1801.

In 1833, when Dalton was 67 years old, his work was recognised when Lord Grey’s government awarded him a pension of $ 150 and in 1836 this was increased to $ 300, a large sum of money in those days. Dalton lived with his close friend the Reverend W.Johns in George Street, Manchester. Dalton always preferred to live in Manchester where he had spent the most important years of his life in scientific study and experiments. People who knew Dalton well said that he spared very little time in the leisurely reading of books, but he spent in incredibly long hours experimenting in his laboratory, and relied totally on the results of his experiments. Dalton was a very private man who like solitude and avoided crowds and because of this he had very few close friends and led an isolated life.

The next promotion in his career to come his way was when he was elected a member of the Manchester Literary and Philosophical Society. At this time he was also working on the causes of colour blindness from which he suffered, his incessant research showed it was caused by the discolouration of the liquid matter in the eyeball.
Dalton’s study of colour blindness became quite popular and his discovery was known as ” Daltonism ” which became the name for colour blindness. He was the first person to study this subject.

Dalton was unable to recognise the colour green and expressed a wish that after his death his eyes should be examined. In 1990 a DNA sample was taken from one of his eyes and examination showed that Dalton eyes actually lacked the vital pigment that is sensitive to the colour green. In medical terminology this is called ” duteranope.” Dalton became secretary of the Manchester Literary and Philosophical Society which was another feather in his cap. It was quite an honour to hold this position and elevated his position in society.As secretary he presented very erudite papers among which was ” Experimental Essays on the Constitution of Mixed Gasses “, in this paper Dalton explained,” Their can scarcely be a doubt entertained respecting the reducibility of all elastic shields of whatever kind into liquids, and we ought not to despair of affecting it in low temperatures and by strong pressures exerted upon the unmixed gases further.”

Dalton continued his observations on the constitution of mixed gases and made substantial progress in this field.He wrote in one of his papers, ” I see no sufficient reason why we may not conclude that all elastic fluids under the same pressure expand equally by heat and that for any given expansion of mercury, the corresponding expansion of air is proportionally something less, the higher the temperature. It seems therefore that general laws respecting the absolute quantity and the nature of the heat are more likely to be derived from elastic fluids than from other substances.”

Dalton inexhaustibly researched the nature of gases and met success at every stage.He wrote extensively on the absorption of gases by water and other liquids that contained his law of partial pressure. Dalton’s studies on the constitution of mixed gases in different temperatures and conditions yielded astonishing results that helped later scientists make easier progress.

For a person like Dalton work was his life, most of his time would be spent in his laboratory where he would be busy for ages and would even forget to have lunch or dinner. This dedicated man succumbed to a heart attack in 1837 which left him partially paralysed and made it difficult to work. The following year he received yet another heart attack and this time it caused more serious damage to Dalton and left him with a serious speech impediment but he continued his scientific experiments.

On 26 July, 1844 at the age of 78 he had a massive stroke that caused so much damage to his body he was left bedridden. On this day he had made his last meteorological observation, and on the following day he was found dead in his bed by his attendants.Despite Dalton being such a quiet retiring man more than 40,000 people marched behind his coffin in the funeral cortege.

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