Foundations of and Challenges to Electrolyte Chemistry

Author Faculty (Discipline)


Document Type


Publication Date


Publication Details

This article was originally published as:

de Berg, K. C. (2015). Foundations of and challenges to electrolyte chemistry. Foundations of Chemistry, 17(1), 33-48. doi: 10.1007/s10698-015-9219-y

ISSN: 1386-4238


030699 Physical Chemistry not elsewhere classified| 130212 Science, Technology and Engineering Curriculum and Pedagogy| 220206 History and Philosophy of Science (incl. Non-historical Philosophy of Science)

Reportable Items



Mathematics is so common-place in modern physics and chemistry that one may not realise how controversial its admittance was to these fields in the eightieth and ninetieth centuries respectively. This paper deals with the controversy during the formation of physical chemistry as a discipline in the late ninetieth and early twentieth centuries and sketches more recent criticisms of the way mathematics has been used in solution chemistry. The controversy initially related particularly to electrolyte chemistry and its emerging use of mathematics to support Arrhenius’ theory of ionic dissociation. The impact of mathematics on the field is divided into three phases: that from 1880 to 1920 which was a period of heightened controversy; that from 1920 to 1990 which was a period of relative calm and mathematical development; and finally, that from 1990 to the present which has been a time of reflective criticism of the extensive use of empirical parameters in the emergent mathematics of the twentieth century. It is argued that the current solution to the criticism, as proposed by Heyrovska, is best viewed in the light of the historical development of the controversy.


Due to copyright restrictions this article is unavailable for download.

This article may be accessed from the publisher here.