Joseph Louis Gay-Lussac


Joseph Louis Gay-Lussac : biography

06 December 1778 – 09 May 1850

When Gay-Lussac conducted experiments with other gases he ascertained that this value is similar for all gases in spite of the generally accepted opinion that different gases widened with warming in different ways.

Arcueil society (1806-1808)

In 1807 Bertholet organized a private scientific society which was called Arcueil society by the name of the commune near Paris where the great chemist lived. Gay-Lussac was on the first members of this society. In the first volume of the collection which was published by the society Gay-Lussac published the results of research which was made during the journey around Europe in 1805-1806.

In the second volume of the collection Gay-Lussac published a small note “About mutual connection of gas substances”. The conclusion which was made in this article was so important that afterwards it was called “the law of Gay-Lussac”.

At these years atomic theory was making first steps, that’s why Gay-Lussac’s results were a real breakthrough in the field of investigation of substances’ structure. In the first formulation of the law which was published in 1808 Gay-Lussac claimed that “gases when effected on each other combined in simple ratio, for example, 1 to 1, 1 to 2 or 2 to 3”. Gay-Lussac also found out that this ratio didn’t change according to temperature in spite of generally accepted conceptions that quantity of elementary particles in gas changed according to temperature in different proportions for different gases.

Potassium, sodium and boron (1808)

In 1807 Berzelius, Hizinger and Davy used Voltaic pile as a source of electricity and got from melt of potash and soda metal (potassium and sodium) which had amazing characteristics: they were soft as wax, swim in water, ignited spontaneously and burnt with bright flame. Emperor Napoleon was interested in this discovery and he gave a big sum of money to the Polytechnic school for making a large Voltaic pile. When Gay-Lussac and Thenard were conducting experiments they found out that potassium and sodium could be made chemically in quantity which was sufficient for very imperfect for that time chemical analysis. The results of experiments were published on the 7th of March in 1808.

Gay-Lussac and Thenard investigated chemical characteristics of these metals, they examined their interaction with all known at that time substances. During the work they managed to decompose chemically boric acid and get a new element which was called boron afterwards. They also tried to decompose substance which was called at that time “oxidized hydrochloric acid” for simple elements. They failed and supposed that this substance was a simple element itself. The article which was published on the 27th of February in 1809 contradicted opinions of many chemists of that time but an outstanding chemist Davy agreed with this supposition and Ampere suggested that they should call this new element chlorine. Afterwards it was ascertained that hydrochloric acid was made by combining of chlorine and hydrogen.

Iodine (1814)

In the middle of 1811 a Paris maker of nitre Bernard found out a new substance in ashes of sea algae which corroded coppers. It had unusual violet colour and that’s why Gay-Lussac suggested calling it iodine. Desormes and Clement got samples of this new substance and on the 6th of December they made a report about their experiments. Davy also started to research the new substance and arrived in Paris.

When Gay-Lussac got little iodine he started to research its chemical characteristics and ascertained that iodine was simple substance which interacted with hydrogen and oxygen and formed two acids. A report about these discoveries was published in works of the French Academy in 1814. Gay-Lussac made a special emphasis on resemblance of chlorine and iodine characteristics.

Cyanogen (1815)

In 1815 Gay-Lussac started to research characteristics of Berlin (Prussian) blue – dye stuff which was widely used in painting and textile industry. Before this substance attracted interest of such scientists as Macquer, Guyton de Morveau, Bergman, Scheele, Bertholet, Proust and Porre.