Gay Lussac

Gay Lussac
With his skill in science, and with his work with the scientific method, Joseph Louis Gay-Lussac earns the title of a great scientist. He was born on December 6, 1778 and he was the oldest child. His father was Antoine Gay. He was a lawyer who called himself Gay-Lussac to be apart from all of the other people with the same last name as Gay there. He got that name from the name of some family property near St Leonard
The French Revolution affected the French scientists then. Gay-Lussac was sent to Paris when he was fourteen when his father was arrested. After taking private lessons and going to boarding school, the Ecole Polytechnique, and the civil engineering school, Gay-Lussac became an assistant to Berthollet, a co-worker of Lavoisier. Gay-Lussac then got his chance to work with famous men. Here with these people he received his training in chemical research(4).
Gay-Lussac did his first major research in the winter of 1801-1802 when he was 24. He found some different evidence about the expansion properties of different gases. He took out the water vapor from the equipment he used and made sure that the gases didn?t have any moisture, he got results that were more accurate than the others before him. He concluded that equal volumes of all gases expand equally with the same increase in temperature. (16,19).
Gay-Lussac and Thenard, a laboratory professor, isolated the element boron. Also, Gay-Lussac worked with isolation of plant alkaloids medical uses and was able to produce oxalic acid from the fusion of sawdust and alkali.(17) One of his most important industrial achievement was the production of sulfuric acid. He used tall absorption towers called the Gay-Lussac Towers. The reaction took place in chambers that were lead-lined where sulfuric acid was produced. Gay-Lussac found a way to recycle the substance that was left after the sulfuric acid was produced. Sulfuric acid was produced a lot this way back then. (13)
Gay-Lussac made new types of equipment like the portable barometer, an improved pipette and burette, and a new type of equipment that accurately estimated the purity of silver. (5) His work with the expansion of gases was used by Lord Kelvin in the absolute temperature scale and Third Law of Thermodynamics and in the Second Law(9). He helped improve ways of studying elements and found ways to produce and measure acids and alkalis(16). His work with the effect of light improved photo-chemistry (10). Also, Gay-Lussac tested his hypotheses on earth?s magnetic field and the composition of the air by traveling up in a hot air balloon.. On Aug. 24, 1804, Gay-Lussac went up 13,000 feet in the air to study the difference of the Earth?s magnetism with increased height. On Gay-Lussac?s second lift, he made a record height of 23,018 feet. He reasoned that the Earth?s magnetic intensity and the composition of the air were constant. (20).
Gay-Lussac?s most famous work is his Law of Combining Volumes. This law states that the compounds of gaseous substances with each other are always formed in very simple ratios by volume(11).
Gay-Lussac then worked with the scientist/explorer Alexander von Humbolt They became good friends and later traveled together through Europe for a year in 1805, going to Rome, Switzerland and Berlin(3). Before that, they worked on finding the ratio where hydrogen and oxygen combine to form water. They needed this to help find the percent of oxygen in the air. They came up with very accurate results of a volume ratio of 100 of oxygen to 200 of hydrogen.
He also worked with Humbolt on measuring the earth?s magnetic intensity. In 1807 he did many experiments to find out if there is a relationship between the specific heats of gases and their densities(3).
Gay-Lussac looked at some data that was already collected. This data focused on the proportions by weight of nitrogen. Gay-Lussac then took that data and reduced the proportions to volumes. He came up with the 5% rule which says that ?the first and last of these proportions differ only slightly from 100:50 and 100:200? (11).
Gay-Lussac does another experiment. He reacts 100 volumes of nitrous gas with potasium(11) and he finds that the volume of the gas decreases by 50%.
Next, John Dalton, a great scientist, criticized the accuracy of Gay-Lussac?s work. He said that the volumes did not occur in simple whole number ratio, which went against what Gay-Lussac?s Law(7). Dalton could not see how the same proportions could apply to combining volumes(12). Avogadro, another scientst, said that equal volumes of gases at the same temperature and pressure contain the same number of particles. In the end, Dalton accepted the Law of Combining Volumes. (14).
The stubborn blindness of Dalton and Berzelius and Gay-Lussac is a clear example of a common pitfall in the practice of science. Roger Bacon might have recognized it as the third ?Cause of Error?: popular prejudice(2), but it also has elements of Bacon?s first cause of error, namely, submission to faulty and unworthy authority. We see that science has the pitfalls of human frailty as well as beauty and nobility.
Gay-Lussac made many advances in the field of science. He made advances in industrial chemistry; in the field of analytical chemistry by improving the methods of analyzing gas mixtures, he studied acids and iodine, and he isolated cyanogen. He improved methods of isolating alkali metals, showed chlorine to be an element, and isolated boron. He is also know for his work with gases. He discovered that a gas at constant pressure expands, for each degree of temperature. Also, he discovered the Law of Combining Volumes. In conclusion, he was not only an outstanding scientist, but a very educated and well-respected man.

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