Robert Boyle Biography (1627-1691)

physicist and chemist

Before the 1700s alchemists and some scientists believed that one substance could be changed into another, and they tried to prove it by transforming suchcommon metals as lead into gold and silver. Robert Boyle, one of the first modern chemists, knew that these assertions were incorrect and believed that theories must be proved by careful experiments, the experimental results mustbe reported publicly, and other scientists must be able to repeat the experiments and confirm the results. Thus, Boyle became one of the pioneers of modern scientific methods. Boyle was fortunate enough to be born into one of the wealthiest aristocratic families of his day. He was a gifted and industrious student, and after attending an excellent school in England, he and his brother studied in Europe for several years, accompanied by a personal tutor. In Italy Boyle became acquainted with Galileo's experimental work, which was a strong influence on his scientific career. He also became a devout Christian after experiencing a frightening thunderstorm in Switzerland. In the 1640s Boylereturned to England and began meeting regularly with other scholars in London to discuss the philosophy of experimentation and other innovative ideas. Atfirst, they called themselves the Invisible College, but they later became known as the Royal Society. Boyle's interest in physics and chemistry grew when he moved to Oxford in 1654 and became acquainted with the scientists there.To pursue his interests, Boyle set up an elaborate research laboratory and hired skilled assistants to conduct experiments. Although Boyle is best knownfor Boyle's law and other discoveries demonstrating the relationship betweenthe pressure and volume of gases, he and his co-workers also developed many innovative scientific techniques and research devices. One of Boyle's most brilliant research assistants was Robert Hooke, who built an improved air pump based on an earlier one designed by German engineer Otto von Guericke . Air pumps were used in early laboratories to create vacuums inside cylinders. Although vacuums were poorly understood at the time, they were the subject of muchinterest and experimentation. Boyle and Hooke developed a better method of supporting the air pump's cylinder and cranking its piston ; they also improved the design and placement of the pump's valves. Boyle also became the firstscientist to collect a gas by means of an ingenious experimental set-up. He filled a flask with sulfuric acid and dropped iron nails into it, then inverted the flask and submerged it in more acid. As the iron reacted with the sulfur, hydrogen bubbles rose upward to collect at the top of the inverted flask.This apparatus represented a primitive form of the pneumatic trough, which isnow a familiar laboratory device. In 1668 Boyle returned to London to live with his sister. In his later years, he devoted greater effort to promoting his Christian ideals, but he continued to correspond with many scientists and scholars. In 1680 Boyle invented the first match although it would be many years before matches became widely used. He and an assistant coated a piece of coarse paper with phosphorus, then produced a flame by drawing a sulfur-tippedwooden splint through a fold in the paper. Boyle is also credited with coining many new scientific terms, such as analysis and element (intheir modern meanings) and barometer.

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