Davy, Sir Humphry

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.
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Davy, Sir Humphry

Sir Humphry Davy, 1778–1829, English chemist and physicist. The son of a woodcarver, he received his early education at Truro and was apprenticed (1795) to a surgeon-apothecary at Penzance. While director (1798–1801) of the laboratory of the Pneumatic Institution, Clifton, he investigated the properties of nitrous oxide (laughing gas). He was lecturer (1801) and professor (1802–13) at the Royal Institution, London. His researches in electrochemistry led to his isolation of potassium and sodium in 1807 and of calcium, barium, boron, magnesium, and strontium in 1808. He established the elementary nature of chlorine, advanced the theory that hydrogen is characteristically present in acids, and classed chemical affinity as an electric phenomenon. He was also noted for the invention of a safety lamp for miners and for his lectures on agricultural chemistry (pub. 1813). Knighted (1812) and made a baronet (1818), he was elected (1820) president of the Royal Society. His collected works (9 vol., 1839–40; repr. 1972) include a biographical memoir by his brother, John Davy.

See biography by A. Treneer (1963).

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