The Oil Drop Experiment: A Rational Reconstruction of the Millikan-Ehrenhaft Controversy and Its Implications for Chemistry Textbooks
Research in science education has recognized the importance of history and philosophy of science. Given this perspective, it is important to analyze how general chemistry textbooks interpret Millikan's oil drop experiment. This study has the following objectives: (a) elaboration of a history and philosophy of science framework based on a rational reconstruction of experimental observations that led to the Millikan-Ehrenhaft controversy; (b) formulation of six criteria based on the framework, which could be useful in the evaluation of chemistry textbooks; and (c) evaluation of 31 chemistry textbooks based on the criteria. Results obtained showed that most textbooks lacked a history and philosophy of science framework and did not deal adequately with the following aspects. (a) The Millikan-Ehrenhaft controversy can open a new window for students, demonstrating how two well-trained scientists can interpret the same set of data in two different ways. (b) Millikan's perseverance with his guiding assumption shows how scientists can overcome difficulties with anomalous data. (c) Millikan's methodology illustrates what modern philosophers of science consider important issues of falsification, confirmation, and suspension of disbelief. (d) The experiment is difficult to perform even today, owing to the incidence of a series of variables. (e) Millikan's major contribution consists of discovering the experiment to provide confirmation for the elementary electrical charge.
Journal of Research in Science Teaching
- Pub Date:
- May 2000