Stigler’s law and Avogadro’s number

Stigler’s law says that no scientific discovery is named after its original discoverer. Stigler attributed his law to Robert Merton, acknowledging that Stigler’s law obeys Stigler’s law.

Avogadro’s number may be an example of Stigler’s law, depending on your perspective. An episode of Engines of our Ingenuity on Josef Loschmidt explains.

The Italian, Romano Amadeo Carlo Avogadro, had suggested [in 1811] that all gases have the same number of molecules in a given volume. Loschmidt figured out [in 1865] how many molecules that would be.

You could argue that Avogadro’s constant should be named after Loschmidt, and some use the symbol L for the constant in honor of Loschmidt. Jean Perrin came up with more accurate estimates and proposed in 1909 that the constant should be named after Avogadro. Loschmidt made several important contributions to science that are now known by other’s names.

As I’d mentioned in an earlier post, there are some fun coincidences with Avogadro’s number.

  1. NA is approximately 24! (i.e., 24 factorial.)
  2. The mass of the earth is approximately 10 NA kilograms.
  3. The number of stars in the observable universe is 0.5 NA.

4 thoughts on “Stigler’s law and Avogadro’s number

  1. This definitely applies to math, as well. I remember the frequent lament of one of my teachers in college that Eudoxus ought to be a household name.

  2. This phenomenon, that discoveries in the sciences named after a human did not originate with that human, is of course also known to some as [V.I.] Arnol’d’s principle, which also applies to itself. It appears in his “On teaching mathematics”, which also imparts to us such important knowledge as “Mathematics is the subset of physics in which experiments are the cheapest.”

Comments are closed.