Structure in Chemistry: A Preliminary Investigation

Exploratory Award

Project Team:

Principal Investigator:

Dr Robin Hendry, Durham University


Julia Bursten (Pittsburgh University)

William Goodwin (University of South Florida)

Paul Needham (University of Stockholm)

Michael Weisberg (University of Pennsylvania)

Award Information:

Molecular structure is central to explanation across chemistry, yet has been ignored by philosophers. This project brought together philosophers and scientists, through workshops in Philadelphia and Durham, to discuss this key theoretical idea.

The project addressed: (i) the different notions of structure employed in explanations in different parts of chemistry; (ii) the mathematical and explanatory relationships between these different notions of structure; (iii) how weak bonds and short-lived structures challenge the concepts of bond and structure; (iv) the grounding of structure in quantum mechanics.

The project has opened up a philosophical discussion of structure and its role in chemical explanation, and whether the chemical bond should be eliminated from chemical theory, consigned to a merely heuristic role, or accepted as real on the available chemical evidence. The project has also raised awareness of philosophy of science among chemists and has raised awareness of foundational issues in chemistry among philosophers of science.

Further information:

A Case Study (PDF) of this AHRC Science in Culture Theme Exploratory Award is available to download here.

Project dates: February- September 2012