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Grove, Sir William Robert

cell fuel devised current

(1811–96) British lawyer and physicist; devised first fuel cell.

It is rare for anyone to practise law and science together, as Grove did. He became a barrister, but poor health was thought to point to a less active life and he turned to electrochemistry. He invented the Grove Zn-Pt cell, which was popular and survived in a form modified by . Then, to improve his income, Grove returned to legal work. He defended Palmer, the ‘Rugeley poisoner’, in a famous murder trial in 1856 and became a judge in 1871, meanwhile continuing his scientific interests. He devised in 1842 what he called a ‘gas battery’; in fact the first fuel cell, not to be confused with the Grove cell described above. The fuel cell had two platinum strips, both half-immersed in dilute H2SO4 ; one strip was half in H2 gas, the other in O2 gas. When a wire connected the ends, a current flowed. Other pairs of gases (eg H2 and Cl2 ) also gave a current. Grove realized that the current came from a chemical reaction: it was not until the 1950s that F T Bacon (1904–92; a descendant of ) devised a practical, useful fuel cell.

In 1845 Grove made the first electric filament lamp and in 1846 showed that steam is dissociated (to H2 and O2 ) on hot platinum. He also studied lighting in mines, and discharge tubes, and offered early ideas on energy conservation.

In 1891, at the jubilee of the Chemical Society, of which he was a founder, he said, ‘…for my part, I must say that science to me generally ceases to be interesting as it becomes useful’.

Growing Up [next] [back] Grove, Andrew S. - Overview, Personal Life, Career Details, Social and Economic Impact, Chronology: Andrew S. Grove

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