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Humphrey Davy Lecturing, 1809
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A 1809 etching by Thomas Rowlandson depicting Davy giving a chemical lecture at the Surrey Institute. Humphry Davy, 1st Baronet (December 17, 1778 - May 29, 1829) was an English chemist and inventor. In 1798, he joined the Pneumatic Institution which had been established for the purpose of investigating the medical powers of factitious airs and gases. One of his first discoveries was that pure nitrous oxide (laughing gas) is perfectly respirable. His Researches, Chemical and Philosophical, chiefly concerning Nitrous Oxide, published in 1800, secured his reputation as a chemist. In 1801 he was engaged as lecturer at the new formed Royal Institution and gave his first lecture on Galvanism. His lectures included spectacular and sometimes dangerous chemical demonstrations., and the young and handsome chemist soon acquired a huge female following. He was a pioneer in the field of electrolysis using the voltaic pile to split up common compounds and thus prepare many new elements. He discovered several new metals, especially sodium and potassium, highly reactive elements known as the alkali metals. He worked with electrolysis throughout his life and also discovered calcium, magnesium, boron and barium. In 1812, Davy was knighted, gave a farewell lecture to the Royal Institution, and married a wealthy widow, Jane Apreece. In 1815 he invented the Davy lamp, a safety lamp consisting of a wick lamp with the flame enclosed inside a mesh screen, or use in coal mines, to reduce the danger of explosions due to the presence of methane and other flammable gases. He damaged his eyesight in a laboratory accident with nitrogen trichloride and hired Michael Faraday as a coworker, went on to enhance Davy's work and in the end he became the more famous and influential scientist. Davy is supposed to have claimed Faraday was his greatest discovery. He died in 1829 at the age of 50 of heart disease inherited from his father's side of the family.
March 6th, 2013
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