A theory of the atom had to explain:
Lord Kelvin had seen smoke rings of his physicist friend P.G. Tait, and was impressed by their stability, and vibrational properties. He had a vision of atoms as vortices in space.
How to explain the variety of atoms?
In 1867, Kelvin presented a paper to the Royal Society of Edinburgh, in which he wrote:
Models of knotted and linked vortex atoms were presented to the
Society, the infinite variety of which is more than sufficient
to explain the allotropies and affinities of all known matter.
So Tait set about preparing a list of knots, to see if there was a relation with the elements in the periodic table.
The vortex theory of the atom soon disappeared, but Tait's 10 years of work on his list of knots of up to 10 crossings and the conjectures he made (some of which have been proved only recently) have been an inspiration ever since.
Further, the idea of relations between knots and fundamental properties of matter is being shown to have a continuing force.
© Mathematics and Knots, U.C.N.W.,Bangor, 1996 - 2002
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