What’s In a Logo?

How John Dalton’s early atomic theory led to the Science History Institute’s logo.

By Zack Pelta-Heller | February 2, 2018
Plate 7: Arrangements of elastic fluid particles

Detail from “Plate 7: Arrangements of elastic fluid particles,” from John Dalton, A New System of Chemical Philosophy

Science History Institute

The Science History Institute tells the stories behind scientific developments, so it’s only fitting to tell the story of how the new logo was chosen. With rays emanating from a central circle, the logo draws on John Dalton’s early depiction of a hydrogen atom.

Dalton was a self-taught British scientist, schoolteacher, and lecturer whose early-19th-century book, A New System of Chemical Philosophy, described matter in terms of atoms, establishing the chemical atomic theory. Arnold Thackray, the founder of our organization and a Dalton scholar, said that what Dalton put forth in A New System of Chemical Philosophy is essentially the language of modern chemistry. The new logo is emblematic then, not just of how elements speak to one another but also of how the sciences and scientifically minded people relate to each other as a whole.


John Dalton portait

Dr. Dalton, F.R.S., by James Lonsdale.

Science History Institute

As a teacher in Manchester, England, Dalton was a member of the Manchester Literary and Philosophical Society. This professional association gave Dalton much-needed access to laboratories for his studies and to a forum for presentation of his research, which initially focused on color blindness and the weather. (Dalton himself lived with color blindness, sometimes referred to as Daltonism.) His meticulously observed daily weather records and first book, Meteorological Observations and Essays, published in 1793, ultimately led Dalton to consider the very nature of nature itself. Essentially Dalton went from contemplating how water droplets composed clouds and water vapor to pondering what composed the droplets themselves, on a molecular level.

By 1808 Dalton had published the first part of A New System of Chemical Philosophy, in which he described the behavior of atoms in great detail. He focused on the relationships between molecules and how particles are surrounded by an “elastic fluid” or “atmosphere” as they interact while still maintaining their defining characteristics. It’s in this book that Dalton put forth his early atomic theory, which he used in his teachings and which nearly 200 years later continues to be a cornerstone of scientific education.

Dalton published Part II of A New System of Chemical Philosophy in 1810 but only completed the first part of the second volume in 1827. A bound set of all three parts is a centerpiece of the Neville collection of rare books, a vast compendium of over 7,000 volumes housed in the Institute’s Othmer Library. To that end the logo reflects the Institute’s commitment to its collections, scientific exploration, and research into the innovations of the past.

Yet the logo holds even more significance considering the fate of Dalton’s original drawings. The Manchester Literary and Philosophical Society declined a loan request in 1928 from the London-based Science Museum, allowing instead for the museum to copy the drawings Dalton once used as a teaching aid. During World War II a bombing raid destroyed the originals. The surviving copy then not only serves as inspiration for the Institute’s new logo; it’s also a testament to the critical work of preserving scientific history.