Theories of Matter Throughout History


The Stone Age

8000 BC - 6000 BC

Matter was considered to be anything solid out of which tools could be made. This was mainly rocks and bones, because the cavemen didn't have much use for a more sophisticated theory of matter.

The Earliest Chemists

6000 BC - 1000 BC

Early chemists produced valuable metals such as gold and copper.

Early Chemists

4500 BC - 1200 BC

Chemists experimented with metals and found that the heating of copper produced bronze,which was then used as material for tools

The Iron Age

1200 BC - 500 BC

Iron was combined with carbon to make steel for stronger tools. It was also in this time period that the Hittites first discovered how to extract iron from rocks and melt it into pots and pans.

The Greek Philosophers

500 BC - 350 BC

Democratis- Believed that all matter could be divided into tiny, indivisible bits called "atomos"
Aristotle- Believed that everything was made up of a mixture of water, earth fire and air.


1500 AD - 1600 AD

Alchemists were the first modern chemists, although they weren't scientists. They believed it was possible to change metal into gold, and this was their main goal. They conducted the first chemistry experiments.

Robert Boyle

1627 - 1691

Boyle experimented with gasses and what happened to them under pressure. it as through these experiments that eh concluded that matter was made of tiny particles, which is a major part of out modern theory of matter.

Antoine Lavoisier

1743 - 1794

Named "The Father of Modern Chemistry, he developed a system for naming elements. He named both Hydrogen and Oxygen, predicted silicon and was one of the first to establish sulphur as an element rather than a compound.

John Dalton

1766 - 1844

Dalton was the first person to define elements as pure substances. e also came up with the "billiard ball" model of an atom, which was the first theory of atomic structure. He also did research into colour-blindness, which is sometimes called daltonism in his honour.

JJ Thomson

1856 - 1940

Thomson discovered electrons and first developed the "Raisin Bun" or "Plum Pudding" model of an atom. This showed the atom as a positive sphere with electrons (negative charges) embedded in it. He was awarded the 1906 Nobel Prize for his work.

Hantaro Nagaoka

1865 - 1950

Nagaoka produced the "Solar System" model of an atom, in which the atom was a positive sphere with electrons orbiting around it. He was a pioneer of Japanese physics during the early Meiji Period.

Niels Bohr

1885 - 1962

Developed the "Electron Shell" model of an atom in which electrons move in specific shells, or orbits, around the nucleus. He made foundational structure to the modern understanding of atomic structure and quantum mechanics. He won the Nobel Physics Prize in 1922 for his work.

James Chadwick

1891 - 1974

Chadwick discovered the Proton (positive charge) and the Neutron (no charge) in the nucleus. He went on to win the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1935.

Present Day


The quantum mechanics model of an atom used today shows that an atom is a cloud of electrons surrounding the nucleus.