This is the freaking BIRTHDAY DAY, apparently!
Look who just wandered up – SIR HUMPHRY DAVY! Check out that coiff – HAPPY BIRTHDAY, Sir Humphry Davy (17 December 1778 – 29 May 1829)!
Sir Humphry Davy was one cool customer – and a smart dude who really revolutionized the way we think about chemistry and electricity. In addition to discovering some of the alkaline earth metals [beryllium (Be), magnesium (Mg), calcium (Ca), strontium (Sr), barium (Ba) and radium (Ra)] along with other departures from accepted discoveries and inventions at the time, including the first electric light in 1809.
SUCK ON THAT, Edison and Swan! If Davy were still alive, he’d be perfectly right in giving you both the big 18th Century middle finger!
Davy did all kinds of experimentation of the time, including lots and lots of experimentation with Nitrous Oxide (Laughing Gas), and Davy was unfortunately a nitrous oxide addict. As you can imagine, he did tons of experiments with the gas, at times really messing himself up. Funny enough, Davy had suggested that Nitrous Oxide be used as an anesthetic, but his suggestion was ignored. Many nobles and highfalutin’ society people used to have big parties where they all sat around huffing Nitrous Oxide. What a crazy party!
One of Humphry Davy’s big inventions was the Davy Lamp – a coal miner’s light that was a heck of a lot safer than some of the other fire-based lamps of the time:
Davy’s lamp was special because it had an iron mesh around the flame, which prevented methane from the flame from dissipating into the mines, causing explosions with coal dust once the methane ignited. However, in the crappy wet conditions of the coal mines of the time, Davy’s iron mesh would rust, causing diminished light and another explosion hazard. At the same time Davy was working on his safety lamp, another inventor, George Stephenson (also known as th Father of the Locomotive) was working on a design that used a glass cover instead of a mesh one. Davy, who claimed that Stephenson stole his design, was pretty angry about this whole deal, and even though Stephenson was exonerated by a court, Davy was pretty upset about this to his death.
Another awesome thing that happened with Davy’s help was the introduction of Michael Faraday into the scientific community. Davy was performing an experiment on the highly reactive compound Nitrogen Trichloride, and it blew up in his face, literally. Davy damaged his eyesight in this experiment – and because of his now new disability, he hired the young Michael Faraday to assist him in the laboratory. Thus, Davy welcomed Faraday into the international scientific community. It’s even said that Davy’s greatest experiment in science was Michael Faraday. Pretty awesome, huh?
Davy did a lot of work with electrolysis, which is the separation of material using DC current. Using a voltaic pile, Davy (and Faraday, who furthered Davy’s work after his death) discovered many metals and elements, including Calcium, Sodium, Potassium, and Chlorine. A scientist named Wilhelm Scheele is originally credited with some of these discoveries, but could never publish his findings.
(HEY JIM – WHAT’S A VOLTAIC PILE?)
This voltaic pile thing is actually pretty cool – invented by Alessandro Volta, it’s the first battery!
Well, HAPPY BIRTHDAY, Sir Humphry Davy! Thanks for all o your discoveries!