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Nicolas Lemery : biography

November 17, 1645 - June 19, 1715

Nicolas Lémery (November 17, 1645 – June 19, 1715), French chemist, was born at Rouen. He was one of the first to develop theories on acid-base chemistry.

After learning pharmacy in his native town he became a pupil of Christophe Glaser in Paris, and then went to Montpellier, where he began to lecture on chemistry. He next established a pharmacy in Paris, still continuing his lectures, but following 1683, being a Calvinist, he was obliged to retire to England. In the following year he returned to France, and turning Catholic in 1686 was able to reopen his shop and resume his lectures. He died in Paris on the 19th of June 1715.

Lemery did not concern himself much with theoretical speculations, but holding chemistry to be a demonstrative science, confined himself to the straightforward exposition of facts and experiments. In consequence, his lecture-room was thronged with people of all sorts, anxious to hear a man who shunned the barren obscurities of the alchemists, and did not regard the quest of the philosopher's stone and the elixir of life as the sole end of his science. Of his Cours de chymie (1675) he lived to see 13 editions, and for a century it maintained its reputation as a standard work.

In 1680, using the corpuscular theory as a basis, Lemery stipulated that the acidity of any substance consisted in its pointed particles, while alkalis were endowed with pores of various sizes.Lemery, Nicolas. (1680). An Appendix to a Course of Chymistry. London, pp. 14–15. A molecule, according to this view, consisted of corpuscles united through a geometric locking of points and pores.

Mock-up of Nicolas Lemery's 1680 [[acid-base bonding model.]]

Cours de chymie in EnglishHis other publications included Pharmacopée universelle (1697), Traité universel des drogues simples (1698), Traité de l'antimoine (1707), together with a number of papers contributed to the French Academy, one of which offered a chemical and physical explanation of underground fires, earthquakes, lightning and thunder. He discovered that heat is evolved when iron filings and sulphur are rubbed together to a paste with water, and the artificial volcan de Lemery was produced by burying underground a considerable quantity of this mixture, which he regarded as a potent agent in the causation of volcanic action.

His son Louis Lémery (1677–1743) was appointed physician at the Hôtel-Dieu de Paris in 1710, and became demonstrator of chemistry at the Jardin du Roi in 1731. He was the author of a Traité des aliments (1702), and of a Dissertation sur la nature des os (1704), as well as of a number of papers on chemical topics.

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