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More Practical and Conceptual Innovation

More Practical and Conceptual Innovation


(p.240) Chapter 10 More Practical and Conceptual Innovation
Pure Intelligence
Melvyn C. Usselman
University of Chicago Press

This chapter describes some examples of Wollaston’s innovative thinking, both practical and conceptual. In 1809 he reported a measurement of the frequency of muscle fiber contractions of 20-30 beats per second and, a few years later he devised a precursor of a heat pipe which he named a cryophorus. In 1813 he published his method of making platinum wires, known today as Wollaston wires, with diameters as narrow as 1/50,000 of an inch. In 1814 he published details of the sliding scale of chemical equivalents, which allowed chemists to calculate easily the relative proportions, or equivalents, of substances present in compound substances. For many, discussion of chemical combination in terms of equivalents was seen as an epistemological improvement over atomistic explanation. In 1822, Wollaston sought to provide proof for the existence of indestructible atoms by an argument based on the finite extent of a planet’s atmosphere.

Keywords:   William Hyde Wollaston, muscle contraction, cryophorus, Wollaston wires, chemical equivalents, combining proportions, indestructible atoms, finite atmosphere

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