Welcome to my fourth “Science Answers” post! If you have a question, you can ask it in the comments here, or ask it in an email. Or find me on Facebook!
Q: (1) How did scientists find elements in the first place? Could there be more undiscovered elements? (2) How did scientists create the periodic table? (3) How do we know that everything is made up of atoms, when atoms are so small that they can’t even reflect light (a necessity for seeing them)? (asked by Mukesh Garbyal)
Really good questions! I was asked these in a comment on my post “Types of Atoms,” and chose to answer them in a post of their own.
Let’s take this apart. I actually want to address the third part of the question first, since it contains a misconception: atoms can reflect light. Their interaction with light is actually why we can see anything in the world.
I remember something my ninth grade advanced biology teacher told our class. It was essentially a story about an invisible dragon.
Now why, you ask, would a biology teacher teach us about an invisible dragon?
Her message had nothing to do with the dragon, and everything to do with the lengths one of the story’s characters went to in order to disprove the dragon’s existence. Her intention was to help her students distinguish between evidence and belief.
On a broader level, her intention was to show us the difference between science and religion. See, back when I was in eighth and ninth grade, there seemed to be a lot of controversy in schools surrounding science and religion.
Teachers of students that age felt the need to preempt their entire class with a disclaimer—that students were still free to believe whatever they believed, no matter what science the class taught.
Most teachers just made a general announcement on the first day. But my biology teacher told us this story about a dragon—and it continues to impact me to this day.