Sir Humphry Davy


Born: 17 December 1778
Died: 29 May 1829
Birthplace: Penzance, Cornwall, England
Best known as:

The chemist known as the father of electrolysis

Humphry Davy was one of the most celebrated British chemists of the early 19th century, credited with having discovered several elements through electrolysis. Humphry Davy got interested in chemistry as an apprentice to an apothecary when he was a young man (though he was eventually dismissed after his experiments led to explosions). After studying chemistry, Davy got interested in the properties of gases and is famous for having sniffed nitrous oxide ("laughing gas") in 1800 and discovering its intoxicating effect (this led to a brief fad of nitrous oxide parties). By 1802 he had been hired as a lecturer for the Royal Institution in London and had started experimenting with the effects of electricity on chemical compounds. By running a current through a number of substances, Davy was able to isolate metallic elements such as potassium, sodium, magnesium, calcium and barium. He is also credited with having built a safe miner's lamp (the Davy lamp) and one of the first arc lamps. Humphry Davy was given many awards and honors in his career and was knighted in 1812.

Extra credit:

Humphry Davy hired Michael Faraday as an assistant in 1811, but apparently resented Faraday's later success and tried to block his entry into the Royal Society in the 1820s... These days it's assumed that all that sniffing of gases had some part in Davy's premature death... Humphry Davy once built a giant battery in the basement of the Royal Society building, featuring more than 2,500 electrical plates and taking up nearly 900 square feet... In 1828, he published a book on fly-fishing.

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