Radio 4 - In Our Time: Kinetic Theory

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Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss how scientists sought to understand the properties of gases and the relationship between pressure and volume, and what that search unlocked. Newton theorised that there were static particles in gases that pushed against each other all the harder when volume decreased, hence the increase in pressure. Those who argued that molecules moved, and hit each other, were discredited until James Maxwell and Ludwig Boltzmann used statistics to support this kinetic theory. Ideas about atoms developed in tandem with this, and it came as a surprise to scientists in C20th that the molecules underpinning the theory actually existed and were not simply thought experiments.
Period23 May 2019
Degree of RecognitionInternational


  • history of science
  • history of physics
  • Maxwell
  • Boltzmann
  • kinetic theory
  • physics
  • history of mathematics
  • history of statistics