Boyle, Robert

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.

Boyle, Robert

Robert Boyle, 1627–91, Anglo-Irish physicist and chemist. The seventh son of the 1st earl of Cork, he was educated at Eton and on the Continent and conducted most of his researches at his own laboratories at Oxford (1654–68) and London (1668–91). He invented a vacuum pump and used it in the discovery (1662) of what is now known as Boyle's law (see gas laws). Boyle is often referred to as the father of modern chemistry; he separated chemistry from alchemy and gave the first precise definitions of a chemical element, a chemical reaction, and chemical analysis. He also made studies of the calcination of metals, combustion, acids and bases, the nature of colors, and the propagation of sound. Although he was especially noted for his experimental work, Boyle also contributed to physical theory, supporting an early form of the atomic theory of matter, which he called the corpuscular philosophy, and using it to explain many of his experimental results. His extensive writings contributed greatly to the dominance of the mechanistic theory following Newton's work. Boyle was one of the group at Oxford that later became the Royal Society, but he refused the presidency of the society in 1680, as well as many other honors.

See his works, ed. by T. Birch (6 vol., 1772; repr. 1965–66); biographies by R. E. W. Maddison (1969) and M. Hunter (2009); study by M. B. Hall (1958, repr. 1968).

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