The British Journal for the History of Science

Research Article

Frederick Soddy and the Practical Significance of Radioactive Matter

Michael I. Freedmana1

a1 Department of the History of Science, Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, Maryland 21218, USA.

It is for his scientific achievements that we best remember Frederick Soddy—first as the young chemist working with Ernest Rutherford and with William Ramsay in elaborating the disintegration theory of radioactive change, and then as the mature chemist, heading a research programme of his own at the University of Glasgow, a programme which culminated in his formulation of the concept of isotopes in the years before the First World War. Yet there was another side to Soddy's early scientific career: beyond his profound concern with the purely theoretical and experimental aspects of radioactivity research, there was a serious interest in what might be called the practical significance of his science. By practical, I mean those aspects capable of being put to use for the immediate or potential future benefit of man. In this paper I wish to elucidate the nature of this concern during Soddy's career, focusing particularly upon his years at the University of Glasgow, 1904–1914.