, Volume 12, Issue 5, pp 221-222
Date: 30 Mar 2007

Numerosity versus mass

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The particulate nature of matter was not evident for a long time in early history. Demokritos (460–370 bc) is mostly credited with the concept of particulate matter, probably based on philosophical grounds. But it was centuries later before the concept was really established by the systematic scientific work of Antoine-Laurent Lavoisier (1743–1794), John Dalton (1766–1844), Jöns Jakob Berzelius (1779–1848), and others.

It is no wonder that an “amount” of matter was measured (determined in common parlance) as mass, especially since a simple instrument—a balance—and a property of any material—its “mass”—made it easy to perform the desired measurement, i.e. compare an unknown mass to a known mass, agreed by convention to be the measurement unit for mass measurements. The property of mass was easy to understand, even after the term “inertia” was introduced as a more adequate formulation of it. Paradoxically, an intelligent use of the balance—and therefore of the property of “inertia”—enable ...