Monday, January 2, 2023

Textbooks get Plum Pudding Wrong

A couple of Norway professors write:
Most physics textbooks at college and university level introduce quantum physics in a historical context. However, the textbook version of this history does not match the actual history.
Their main complaints are about textbook descriptions of the Plum pudding model and Rutherford model. In particular, the textbooks say that Rutherford introduce unstable electron orbits into Thomson's plum pudding model. This is incorrect. Wikipedia explains:
The Rutherford model served to concentrate a great deal of the atom's charge and mass to a very small core, but didn't attribute any structure to the remaining electrons and remaining atomic mass.
The electron orbits had already been proposed by Thomson and others, and Rutherford was only concerned with the nucleus.

I am glad to see this paper "exposing the flaws in the textbook version of the historical development of quantum theory", but there is no mention of Wikipedia. The paper is organized about the confusion of a hypothetical girl Emma who reads Gamow's 1966 book but not Wikipedia.

Physics textbooks love to tell these simplified historical stories. Such as how Galileo dropped two rocks from the Leaning Tower of Pisa and proved Aristotle wrong. Usually the true story is just as good, and more instructive.

Actually, Galileo never dropped anything from the Pisa tower, and Aristotle did not say heavy objects fall faster.

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