History and Philosophy of Science, Reviews

Review: Theodore Arabatzis, Representing Electrons

jacket imageChemistry World recently reviewed Theodore Arabatzis’s Representing Electrons: A Biographical Approach to Theoretical Entities. From the review by Dennis Rouvray: "[P]erhaps the most disconcerting message [Representing Electrons] contains is that no experiement has indubitably established the existence of the electron. The author of this thought-provoking work is to be congratulated both for challenging some of our most cherished assumptions and for reminding us that the world of chemistry is not nearly as cut and dried as most chemists would have us believe."
Both a history and a metahistory, Representing Electrons focuses on the development of various theoretical representations of electrons from the late 1890s to 1925 and the methodological problems associated with writing about unobservable scientific entities.
Using the electron—or rather its representation—as a historical actor, Arabatzis illustrates the emergence and gradual consolidation of its representation in physics, its career throughout old quantum theory, and its appropriation and reinterpretation by chemists. As Arabatzis develops this novel biographical approach, he portrays scientific representations as partly autonomous agents with lives of their own. Furthermore, he argues that the considerable variance in the representation of the electron does not undermine its stable identity or existence.