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John Dalton : biography

06 September 1766 - 27 July 1844

John Dalton FRS (6 September 1766 – 27 July 1844) was an English chemist, meteorologist and physicist. He is best known for his pioneering work in the development of modern atomic theory, and his research into colour blindness (sometimes referred to as Daltonism, in his honour).

Later years

James Prescott Joule Dalton communicated his atomic theory to Thomson who, by consent, included an outline of it in the third edition of his System of Chemistry (1807), and Dalton gave a further account of it in the first part of the first volume of his New System of Chemical Philosophy (1808). The second part of this volume appeared in 1810, but the first part of the second volume was not issued till 1827. This delay is not explained by any excess of care in preparation, for much of the matter was out of date and the appendix giving the author's latest views is the only portion of special interest. The second part of vol. ii. never appeared. For Rees's Cyclopaedia Dalton contributed articles on Chemistry and Meteorology, but the topics are not known.

He was president of the Lit & Phil from 1817 until his death, contributing 116 memoirs. Of these the earlier are the most important. In one of them, read in 1814, he explains the principles of volumetric analysis, in which he was one of the earliest workers. In 1840 a paper on the phosphates and arsenates, often regarded as a weaker work, was refused by the Royal Society, and he was so incensed that he published it himself. He took the same course soon afterwards with four other papers, two of which (On the quantity of acids, bases and salts in different varieties of salts and On a new and easy method of analysing sugar) contain his discovery, regarded by him as second in importance only to the atomic theory, that certain anhydrates, when dissolved in water, cause no increase in its volume, his inference being that the salt enters into the pores of the water.

James Prescott Joule was a famous pupil of Dalton.

Death and legacy


Dalton suffered a minor stroke in 1837, and a second one in 1838 left him with a speech impediment, though he remained able to do experiments. In May 1844 he had yet another stroke; on 26 July he recorded with trembling hand his last meteorological observation. On 27 July, in Manchester, Dalton fell from his bed and was found lifeless by his attendant. Approximately 40,000 people filed by his coffin as it was laid in state in the Manchester Town Hall. He was buried in Manchester in Ardwick cemetery. The cemetery is now a playing field, but pictures of the original grave are in published materials.

A bust of Dalton, by Chantrey, was publicly subscribed for and placed in the entrance hall of the Royal Manchester Institution. Chantrey also crafted a large statue of Dalton, now in the Manchester Town Hall. The statue was erected while Dalton was still alive and it has been said: "He is probably the only scientist who got a statue in his lifetime".

In honour of Dalton's work, many chemists and biochemists use the (as yet unofficial) unit dalton (abbreviated Da) to denote one atomic mass unit, or 1/12 the weight of a neutral atom of carbon-12. There is a John Dalton Street connecting Deansgate and Albert Square in the centre of Manchester.

Manchester Metropolitan University has a building named after John Dalton and occupied by the Faculty of Science and Engineering, in which the majority of its Science & Engineering lectures and classes take place. A statue is outside the John Dalton Building of the Manchester Metropolitan University in Chester Street which has been moved from Piccadilly. It was the work of William Theed (after Chantrey) and is dated 1855 (it was in Piccadilly until 1966).

The University of Manchester has a hall of residence called Dalton Hall; it also established two Dalton Chemical Scholarships, two Dalton Mathematical Scholarships, and a Dalton Prize for Natural History. There is a Dalton Medal awarded occasionally by the Manchester Literary and Philosophical Society (only 12 times altogether).

Living octopus

Living octopus

In countries which are located near sea coasts, sea food is an important part of national cuisine