Who Discovered Matter?

The concept of matter arose with ancient Greek philosophers. Initially, Empedocles proposed that all things were made up of some combination of water, fire, earth and air.

Following Empedocles’ ideas, the concept of dividing all things until they could not be divided into smaller sub-parts came about, giving rise to the earliest theories about atoms. Democritus was the philosopher who articulated this concept and named these parts “atomos.” He stated that the atomos could not be destroyed, and that the atomos particles that make up one material, such as stone, are different from the atomos that make up another material, like fur.

Since the ancient Greek era, modern discoveries have shaped the concept of matter as it is known today. In 1643, Evangelista Torricelli showed that air had mass, which demonstrated that even in a substance people cannot see or touch, something physical was present. Daniel Bernoulli theorized that this was because the air had particles that behaved differently than the particles of a stone wall. The atoms that make up the air, according to Bernoulli, moved aside when something else was moving through the air. In 1897, J.J. Thomson discovered the electron, which revolutionized everything known about atoms at that time. Previously, they were not known to have sub-parts.