"Rhetoric and Mathematics in the Saturnian Account of Atomic Spectra," an essay written by Dr. Joseph Little, associate professor of English at Niagara University, was selected for inclusion in the edited collection Arguing with Numbers, which explores the intersection of these two seemingly disparate disciplines. 

Dr. Little’s chapter traces the development of the Saturnian atomic theory advanced in 1904 by Hantaro Nagaoka, one of Japan's leading physicists. The first to predict the existence of the atomic nucleus, Nagaoka’s theory was based on a bold analogy between intra-atomic electrons and the rings of Saturn, which placed him at the fore of European physics and at the center of a debate over the proper practice of science. 

“By understanding mathematics as a language that stands alongside natural languages such as English, French, or Arabic, research in this area further clarifies the role of creativity and interpretive judgment in science and the reasons scientists and mathematicians astutely argue for the veracity of their claims rather than simply allow the evidence to ‘speak for itself,’ as the common myth suggests,” Dr. Little said. 

Dr. Little became interested in the role creativity plays in science during graduate school, when he began to notice how many 19th and 20th century scientists relied on metaphors to conceptualize their objects of study. 

“The metaphors didn't just vanish when the scientists got down to the rigorous business of physics or chemistry; instead, they delivered some of the working assumptions, spatial in nature, upon which a mathematical account of an empirical phenomenon would be developed,” he said.

Dr. Little holds a Ph.D. in education from the University of California, Santa Barbara, and bachelor’s and master’s degrees in scientific and technical communication from the University of Minnesota.


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