By George G. Szpiro

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He provided quite accurate descriptions of these “little plates of ice . . ” Another twenty years went by until the experimentalist Robert Hooke (1635–1703) did him one better. Hooke did not just use the unaided eye to observe nature in the small, he spent his career peering at anything that would sit still under the most modern, state-of- 9 Apart from the unproven hypotheses, the treatise also contains a blooper. At one point Kepler claims that if a space is completely filled with cubes of equal size, then “unum cubum contingunt alii .

In the deduction process he made some dramatic leaps of faith: first, he started out with regular geometrical bodies, which in his worldview are the basic building blocks of the universe. Second, one of those bodies, the dodecahedron, is made up of five-sided regular figures, pentagons. Third, the construction of a pentagon requires the so-called divine proportion (more on that follows), which can be derived as the outcome of a series of numbers. Fourth, a series of numbers, where preceding terms give rise to the succeeding ones, is a symbol of fertility.

But this model was just a construct that came in handy as an explanation. 14 In 1805 the English chemist and physicist John Dalton of Manchester once again took up the hypothesis that matter is composed of small particles, in order to explain certain phenomena that occur during chemical reactions. But for a long time atoms remained no more than a hypothesis. Only by the end of the nineteenth century was it generally accepted that matter is composed of atoms that combine to form molecules. With the advent of electron microscopes—with a resolution of nearly one millionth of a millimeter— toward the middle of the twentieth century, molecules could finally be seen.

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