Georges Claude Biography (1870-1960)


Although Georges Claude made his fortune by inventing the neon light, his other scientific advancements were just as important as his lucky contribution to the advertising business. Claude began his career in the municipal electricity works of Paris, where he experienced a near-fatal accident with a high-tension wire that led him to develop better safety precautions. In 1897, he invented a novel way to transport and store the dangerously flammable gas acetylene. He dissolved the gas in a liquid, acetone, which made it much easier andsafer to handle. This idea greatly facilitated the industrial use of acetylene as an organic chemical. Then in 1902, Claude developed a process to make liquid air in commercial quantities, around the same time that German chemistKarl Paul Gottfried von Linde invented a similar process. Claude also improved methods of generating power from the energy released when liquid oxygen isre-gasified. When the renowned Scottish chemist Sir William Ramsay (1852-1916) needed liquid oxygen for his research on inert gases, it was Georges Claudewho supplied it. As a result, Claude himself became interested in the inertgases, a group of gases that is relatively non-reactive.

In 1910, Claude showed that neon gas would glow with colored light when electricity was discharged in a neon-filled tube. He also invented a means of purifying the gas in the tube using a charcoal filter. Claude's development of neon tubes, which could be twisted to form letters and pictures, soon created quite a stir in the advertising industry and made him a rich man. With the threat of World War I, Claude undertook more serious ventures. First he producedliquid chlorine, which was used in poison gas attacks. Then in 1917, he developed a higher pressure, less expensive process to synthesize ammonia, another important industrial chemical and fertilizer. Based on earlier work by fellow French chemist Henri Le Châtelier (1850-1936), Claude's process wassimilar to one developed independently by Fritz Haber, a German chemist. Georges Claude's intimate understanding of thermodynamics--the conversion of heatinto mechanical work--also resulted in a visionary project that is just nowbeing reexamined. Claude was one of the first scientists to realize that electric energy could be produced using the difference in temperature between theocean's warm surface water and its colder depths. Although Claude's projectended in dismal failure in 1933, researchers today are evaluating the possibilities of this alternative approach to power generation. Whatever research Claude undertook after World War II was not recorded. Because of certain statements he made during the war, Claude was convicted of collaborating with NaziGermany and spent some years in prison before he was freed by the efforts ofhis friends. He died in 1960.

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