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An Eccentric Giant of Science who Weighed the Earth – Cavendish Henry
Scientist Henry Cavendish physicist and chemist was the richest man of his time in England just as Nizam of Hyderabad, India was the richest man in the world during his time/reign.
Scientist Henry Cavendish was born nicely in Nice, France in 1731 into a highly aristocratic and rich family. He was acclaimed as “the richest of all learned men, and very likely also the most learned of the rich”.
1. 1749-53 entered Cambridge University but could not complete his degree because of his secular outlook.
2. Scientist Henry Cavendish inherited enormous fortune at his age of 40. He was a misogynist. He was a recluse — shy personality with a thin and shrill voice. He used to talk about science only with his scientist friends.
3. Scientist Henry Cavendish was elected Fellow of the Royal Society in 1760.
4. “Fire” was the burning topic of those days. What was after burning any substance ash is obtained. The combustible entity was till then named “phlogiston”. Cavendish coined the term “flammable air”.
Scientist Henry Cavendish immersed bits of iron, zinc, tin into sulphuric acid and hydrochloric acid, collected bubbles produced (as a result of chemical action); he called this “air” — he ignited the air and it burned with a nearly invisible beautiful pale blue flame.
Scientist Henry Cavendish called this inflammable air as hydrogen. The first hydrogen-filled balloon was flown in 1783.
5. 1784-85 Scientist Henry Cavendish with his experiments on air said water is not an element but a compound (H2 O).
Priestly Experiment : When a mixture of hydrogen and air was exploded by means of an electric spark, the walls of the vessel were covered with moisture. Priestly did not know how to explain it; Cavendish said it was water.
When hydrogen is burned in air, water is formed. We know oxygen is highly combustible. Explosions have occurred when petromax light and oxygen cylinders were kept near each other, during a surgical operation.
Common air is made up of nitrogen and oxygen in a 4:1 ratio by volume.
Shall we say Scientist Henry Cavendish is “the Father of Hydrogen”?
Scientist Henry Cavendish discovered that 20% of the air we breathe is oxygen. He concluded that oxygen combines with nitrogen when there is an electric spark; such a mechanism occurs during lightning discharges and the compound is rained down on earth, ‘fertilizer from the sky’.
Scientist Henry Cavendish isolated argon, a rare gas, less than 1% in the atmosphere.
6. Scientist Henry Cavendish postulated that “potential difference”, a degree of electrification across conductors was directly proportional to the current which flows through them — a forerunner observation of Ohm’s Law. In his days there were no instruments to quantify/measure; how did Cavendish manage? He turned his own body as a meter estimating the strength of the current, by grasping the end of the electrode with his hand and noting whether he could feel the shock in fingers, up to the wrist or elbow or entire arm. What an ingenious idea/brain!7. In 1803 he was recognized as a foreign associate of the Instit de France.
8. Scientist Henry Cavendish Other contributions : study of meteorology, gold alloys,
9. Major work, his last bout of research at the age of 70: Using Newton’s Laws of Attraction, he established the specific gravity of the earth as 5.48. He literally weighed the earth (figurative description).
Scientist Henry Cavendish was eccentric, wore old shabby clothes, his jacket literally fell apart; the three cornered hat gave an awkward appearance; the only existing portrait of Henry Cavendish was sketched surreptitiously. But the mettle was strong; he was a giant in science, a walking encyclopedia.
Scientist Henry Cavendish died at the age of 78 in the year 1810 leaving no part of the property of his estate of more than a million pounds, to the cause of advancement of science, which lacuna, however, was made good by the Cavendish family in 1871.
All buildings of the Cambridge Physics department were named the Cavendish Laboratories, from the halls of which six Nobel Prize winners in Physics or Chemistry emerged.
Scientist Henry Cavendish was lavish in science and science alone, but didn’t care for outward worldly appearance.
Can his eyes be called an academy because there are pupils therein?