was an early 19th century attempt to explain the existence of the various chemical elements
through a hypothesis regarding the internal structure of the atom
. In 1815 and 1816, the English
chemist William Prout
published two papers in which he observed that the atomic weights
that had been measured for the elements known at that time appeared to be whole multiples of the atomic weight of hydrogen
. He then hypothesized that the hydrogen atom was the only truly fundamental object, and that the atoms of other elements were actually groupings of various numbers of hydrogen atoms.
Prout's hypothesis remained influential in chemistry throughout the 1820s. However, more careful measurements of the atomic weights, such as those compiled by Jöns Jakob Berzelius
in 1828 or Edward Turner
in 1832, "disproved" the hypothesis. In particular the atomic weight of chlorine
, which is 35.45 times that of hydrogen
, could not at the time be explained in terms of Prout's hypothesis. Some came up with the ad hoc
claim that the basic unit was one-half of a hydrogen atom, but further discrepancies surfaced. This resulted in hypothesis that one-quarter of a hydrogen atom was the common unit. Although these turn out to be wrong, these conjectures catalyzed further measurement of atomic weights, a great benefit to chemistry.
The discrepancy in the atomic weights was later understood to be the result of multiple isotopes of the same element. Although all elements are the product of nuclear fusion of hydrogen into higher elements, it is now understood that atoms consist of both protons (hydrogen nuclei) and neutrons. Neutrons in nuclei decay into protons by emission of beta radiation.
The modern version of Prout's rule is that the atomic mass of a nucleus of proton number P and neutron number N is equal to sum of the masses of its constituent protons and neutrons minus its binding energy.
- Gladstone, Samuel (1947). "William Prout (1785-1850)". Journal of Chemical Education 24 478 – 481.
- Benfey, O. Theodore (1952). "Prout's Hypothesis". Journal of Chemical Education 29 78 – 81.
- Siegfried, Robert (1956). "The Chemical Basis for Prout's Hypothesis". Journal of Chemical Education 33 263 – 266.