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Boyle, Robert

elements air italy constant

(1627–91) Irish chemist: established the study of chemistry as a separate science and gave a definition of an element.

The youngest of the 14 children of the first Earl of Cork, Boyle was educated by a tutor at home (Lismore Castle) and at Eton. He showed an ability in languages before the age of 8, and in his interest in algebra he found a useful distraction during convalescence (he was to suffer ill-health throughout his life). His education was continued with a Grand Tour of France and Italy (1638–44), accompanied by his brother Francis and a tutor. In Italy he studied the work of the recently deceased . On the death of his father, Boyle retired to live simply on his estate at Stalbridge in Dorset, where he took no part in the English Civil War then raging.
Boyle moved to Oxford in 1654. He worked on an improved air-pump (which made for him), showing for the first time that Galileo was correct in his assertion that all objects fall at the same velocity in a vacuum. His most famous experiment was with trapped air compressed in the end of a closed shorter end of a U-shaped tube, by the addition of mercury to the open longer end of the tube, which showed that the volume of air halved if the pressure was doubled. The work was published (1660) and became known as Boyle’s Law (in Britain and the USA; credited to in France): it states that for a fixed mass of gas at constant temperature, the pressure and volume are inversely proportional, ie pV = constant.

With the publication of The Sceptical Chymist (1661), Boyle prepared the way for a more modern view of chemistry, which put aside alchemical ideas and the Aristotelian doctrine of the four elements. He proposed the notion of elements as ‘primitive and simple, or perfectly unmingled bodies’ and that elements could be combined to make compounds and that compounds could be divided into their elements. Later used this approach experimentally; but it was Boyle who changed chemical attitudes and prepared the way for and Lavoisier to create the Chemical Revolution. He also believed in the atomic theory and the importance of the shape of the atoms; his views here were taken from older writers. Boyle was a founder member of the Royal Society.

Boyle, T. C. - Author, Career, Sidelights, Selected writings, Novels, Short stories [next] [back] Boyce, William

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