Pallo, Gabor: Early Impact of Quantum Physics on Chemistry: George Hevesy's Work on Rare Earth Elements and Michael Polanyi's Absorption Theory

After Heitler and London published their pioneering work on the application of quantum mechanics on chemistry in 1927, it became an almost unquestioned dogma that chemistry will soon disappear as a discipline of its own rights. Reductionism felt victorious in the hope of analytically describing chemical bond and the structure of molecules. Old quantum theory has already produced a widely applied model for the structure of atoms and the explanation of the periodic system. This paper will show two examples of quantum physics entry into more classical fields of chemistry: inorganic chemistry and physical chemistry. Due to their professional networking, George Hevesy and Michael Polanyi found their ways to Niels Bohr and Fritz London respectively to cooperate in solving together some problems of classical chemistry. Their works on rare earth elements and adsorption theory throws light to the application of quantum physics outside the reductionist areas. They prove the heuristic and persuasive value of quantum thinking in the 1920-1930s. Looking at Polanyi's later oeuvre, his experience with adsorption theory could be a starting point of his non-justificationist philosophy.

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