Joseph Louis Gay-Lussac : biography
Joseph Louis Gay-Lussac was a Berthollet’s student. Since 1809 he was a professor of chemistry in the Polytechnic school and a professor of physics in Sorbonne (Paris), since 1832 he was a professor of chemistry in the Paris Botanical Gardens. In 1831-1839 he was a member of deputy’s chamber where he made speeces only on scientific and technical questions. Since 1939 he was a peer of France. In 1815-1850 Gay-Lussaс with D.F. Arago edited a French magazine “Annales de chimie et de physique”. Besides Gay-Lussac was an assay-master in Bureau de Garantie and as a member of governmental commissions he promoted decision of many important technical questions.
Joseph Louis Gay-Lussac was a member of the Saint Petersburg Academy of science (1826). His name was included in the list of the greatest French scientists which is situated on the first floor of the Eifel Tower.
Childhood and youth
Joseph Louis Gay-Lussac, one of the greatest French scientists, was born on the 6th of December in 1778 in a place under the name Saint-Leonard-de-Noblat, in the department of Haute-Vienna of the Limousin province. His grandfather was a doctor and father was a royal prosecutor and judge in Saint-de-Noblat.
When Gay-Lussac was eleven, the revolution of 1789 happened and sharply changed family’s life. In 1793 Gay-Lussac’s father was arrested according to the law “about suspicious people” and transferred to Paris. Joseph Louis also went there in order to intercede for him. Authorities tried to send him to the army which fought in Vendee but Gay-Lussac managed to avoid conscription because of his law knowledge.
After the governmental overturn on the 27th of July in 1794 which deposed Jacobinic dictatorship Gay-Lussac’s father was set free. In 1795 he sent his son to the boarding school Savur in Paris which soon was closed because of famine, and Gay-Lussac was sent to another boarding school near Paris.
On the 26 of December in 1798 Joseph Louis Gay-Lussac brilliantly passed exams and became a student in the Polytechnic school in Paris with the payment of 30 francs. In 1800 he became one of the best students and got a position in the laboratory of a famous chemist Berthollet. At that time he also became an assistant of a famous chemist Fourcroy and started to make lectures, soon he was known as one of the best teachers of the Polytechnic school.
Experiments with balloons (1804)
In 1804 Gay-Lussac decided to make an ascent on the balloon in order to determine the dependence of Earth magnetic field and air temperature from height. Experiments which were made before (measurements in Alps and ascents on a balloon in Gamburg on the 18th of July in 1803 and in Saint Petersburg on the 30th of June in 1804) helped to discover some lowering of the magnetic field with height. Young scientists Gay-Lussac and Bio were charged to repeat these experiments.
In the morning on the 16th in 1804 Gay-Lussac reached the height 7016 meters and made a world record of ascent’s height on balloon. He made measurements of air temperature and proved that snow on the mountains was not the result of mountains’ influence. But because of the big speed of ascent Gay-Lussac couldn’t measure sharp temperature’s dependence from height.
With the help of Saussur’s Hygrometer Gay-Lussac also measured relative air humidity and discovered that it fast decreased with height. These measurements were considered as erroneous because the device didn’t take into account temperature’s decrease.
In 1804 it was known that content of oxygen and nitrogen in the air was equal in different latitudes anв near Earth’s surface it didn’t depend of height. Gay-Lussac got a sample of atmospheric air on the height 6636 meters and its study proved that facts and didn’t discover impurities of nitrogen in the air. These experiments disproved existed conceptions that meteors and other similar phenomena were provoked by nitrogen burning in top layers of atmosphere.
During the ascent Gay-Lussac investigated physiologic influence of air for human’s organism (difficulty in breathing, hurried heartbeat, dryness in throat) but he considered conditions on the height 7016 rather acceptable not to interrupt investigations.