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Wollaston, William Hyde

platinum discovery rhodium sale

(1766–1828) British chemist: discoverer of palladium and rhodium and pioneer of powder metallurgy.

Wollaston’s father’s family included several scientists and physicians and he followed both interests, at Cambridge and in London. However, in 1800 he gave up his medical practice and in partnership with S Tennant (1761–1815) made his income from the sale of platinum and devoted his time to work in chemistry, optics and physiology. He discovered palladium in 1802 and announced this weirdly by anonymous notices offering it for sale; his discovery of rhodium (also from crude platinum ore) he announced in the usual way, in 1804. Malleable platinum had not been made previously, but Wollaston produced it by methods now basic to powder metallurgy. Not unreasonably, he did not give details of his methods until shortly before his death.

Woolaston was very inventive and wide-ranging in his scientific work, and his lasting contributions include a reflecting goniometer (for measuring crystal angles), a modified sextant, an improved microscope and the discovery of the vibratory nature of muscular action.

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