Happy Birthday, Sir Humphry Davy!

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.


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!

Thanks Wikipedia, NNDB, ChemHeritage, and About!

Happy Birthday, Michael Faraday!

If you work with anything that requires electricity, you might want to know who Michael Faraday was – as today is his birthday!


Who’s that?  Is that Michael Faraday?  Hey, HAPPY BIRTHDAY, Michael Faraday! (September 29, 1791 to August 25, 1867)

Michael Faraday was one of the fathers of our thinking on electricity and electrical theory – ever heard of Faraday’s Law of Induction?  Yeah, same Michael Faraday.  Faraday had his hands in a lot of electro-magnetic theory of his time, and we have lots of his contributions in use today, either directly or indirectly by people like James Clerk Maxwell:

  • obviously, Faraday’s Law (of Induction)
  • the Faraday Cage
  • the unit of capacitance, the Farad
  • the Faraday (magnitude of electric charge per mole of electrons – I told you I was a nerd)
  • Faraday’s first version of the electric motor

A model of Faraday’s early motor:


Just in case you were wondering – Faraday’s Law states:

The induced electromotive force or EMF in any closed circuit is equal to the time rate of change of the magnetic flux through the circuit.

What does this mean?  In basic terms, it relates to how a magnetic field can generate an electric field.  When you have a magnet and you wrap some coils of wire around it and then spin the magnet in order to change the magnetic fields, you create an electromotive force, or EMF.  This force is referred to as voltage.  That is a really general,  basic definition – but nonetheless the gist.

It’s good to learn something every day!  Happy birthday, Michael Faraday!

My favorite Michael Faraday quote:  But still try, for who knows what is possible…

Bill Gurstelle Pays Tribute to Sir Humphry Davy

Everyone knows about arc lights – well, let me say that if you work with light, you know about arc lights.  Sir Humphry Davy gave birth (not literally, obviously) to the first arc light back somewhere between 1802 and 1809.  An excellent nerd and science man, Bill Gurstelle, made a video on how to create a little arc light – check it out!

By the way – if you’ve never read up on Humphry Davy, I highly recommend just checking out his wikipedia entry.  He had a really well-known assistant, Michael Faraday, who also went on to contribute to the way we think about electricity today.

Thanks, Bill!