This polymath chemist who invented numerous elements thanked for being left to himself & hired Faraday as a co-worker!!!
Posted December 16th, 2014
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Sir Humphry Davy, 1st Baronet (17 December 1778 – 29 May 1829) was a Cornish chemist and inventor. He is best remembered today for his discoveries of several alkali and alkaline earth metals, as well as contributions to the discoveries of the elemental nature of chlorine and iodine. Berzelius called Davy's 1806 Bakerian Lecture On Some Chemical Agencies of Electricity "one of the best memoirs which has ever enriched the theory of chemistry." He was a 1st Baronet, President of the Royal Society (PRS), Member of the Royal Irish Academy (MRIA), and Fellow of the Geological Society (FGS).
Humphry Davy was born at Penzance in Cornwall, England, United Kingdom, on 17 December 1778. Davy said himself: "I consider it fortunate I was left much to myself as a child, and put upon no particular plan of study... What I am I made myself."
In the apothecary's dispensary, Davy became a chemist, and a garret in Tonkin's house was the scene of his earliest chemical operations. Davy's friends would often say: "This boy Humphry is incorrigible. He will blow us all."
Much has been said of Davy as a poet, and John Ayrton Paris somewhat hastily says that his verses "bear the stamp of lofty genius". Davy's first production preserved bears the date of 1795. It is entitled The Sons of Genius, and is marked by the usual immaturity of youth. Other poems produced in the following years, especially On the Mount's Bay and St Michael's Mount, are pleasingly descriptive verses, showing sensibility but no true poetic imagination.
Davy was also a painter and three of his paintings dating from circa 1796 have been donated to the Penlee House museum at Penzance. One of these is of the view from above Gulval showing the church, Mount's Bay and the Mount, while the other two depict Loch Lomond in Scotland.
Davy soon abandoned poetry for science. Davy was a pioneer in the field of electrolysis using the voltaic pile to split common compounds and thus prepare many new elements. He went on to electrolyse molten salts and discovered several new metals, including sodium and potassium, highly reactive elements known as the alkali metals. Davy discovered potassium in 1807, deriving it from caustic potash (KOH).
Before the 19th century, no distinction had been made between potassium and sodium. Potassium was the first metal that was isolated by electrolysis. Davy isolated sodium in the same year by passing an electric current through molten sodium hydroxide. Davy discovered calcium in 1808 by electrolyzing a mixture of lime and mercuric oxide. Davy was trying to isolate calcium; when he heard that Berzelius and Pontin prepared calcium amalgam by electrolyzing lime in mercury, he tried it himself. He worked with electrolysis throughout his life and was first to isolate magnesium, boron, and barium.
Chlorine was discovered in 1774 by Swedish chemist Carl Wilhelm Scheele, who called it "dephlogisticated marine acid" (see phlogiston theory) and mistakenly thought it contained oxygen. Davy showed that the acid of Scheel's substance, called at the time oxymuriatic acid, contained no oxygen. This discovery overturned Lavoisier's definition of acids as compounds of oxygen. In 1810, chlorine was given its current name by Humphry Davy, who insisted that chlorine was in fact an element.
Davy later damaged his eyesight in a laboratory accident with nitrogen trichloride. Davy's own accident induced him to hire Michael Faraday as a coworker. While in Paris, Davy was asked by Gay-Lussac to investigate a mysterious substance isolated by Bernard Courtois. Davy showed it to be an element, which is now called iodine.
Davy conceived of using an iron gauze to enclose a lamp's flame, and so prevent the methane burning inside the lamp from passing out to the general atmosphere. Although the idea of the safety lamp had already been demonstrated by William Reid Clanny and by the then unknown (but later very famous) engineer George Stephenson, Davy's use of wire gauze to prevent the spread of flame was used by many other inventors in their later designs. George Stephenson's lamp was very popular in the north-east coalfields, and used the same principle of preventing the flame reaching the general atmosphere, but by different means.




Sir Humphry Davy: Natural philosopher, discoverer, inventor, poet, man of action


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