Henry Cavendish was an eighteenth-century British scientist who is credited with discovering the element hydrogen. His scientific experiments aided in the reformation of chemistry and signaled the beginning of a new era in theoretical chemistry. He had always had a scientific bent of mind, and after finishing high school, he enrolled in the prestigious ‘Cambridge University’ to further his education, but dropped out to pursue his own scientific research. He was noted for his ability to take precise measurements, which is why he was hired by the ‘Royal Greenwich Observatory’ to audit and evaluate meteorological devices. Many of his scientific endeavors, such as the Cavendish Experiment to calculate the mass of the planet and experiments to assess the composition of atmospheric air, show his instrument competence. He is also known for being one of the first scientists to propose the theory of mass and heat conservation. Despite his achievements, Cavendish lived in seclusion and avoided social gatherings. Even at the Royal Society dinners, which were his only social occasions, this extraordinary chemist might be discovered lurking in the empty corridors, sneaking in when no one was looking. Continue reading to learn more about his scientific achievements and life.
Childhood and Adolescence
Henry Cavendish was born on October 10, 1731, in Nice, France, to Norman’s parents, Lady Anne Grey and Lord Charles Cavendish.
Henry and his younger brother Frederick were raised by their father after Lady Anne died in 1733.
Henry attended the ‘Hackney Academy’ in London, where he finished his education. In 1749, he enrolled at ‘St Peter’s College,’ which is affiliated with the ‘University of Cambridge.’ But he quickly dropped out of school to focus on research at the laboratory he established in London.
The Career of Henry
Henry became a member of the ‘Royal Society of London’ in 1760 when he was nominated as a member of both the ‘Royal Society’ and the ‘Royal Society Club.’ He avoided any political agenda because he was an introvert by nature, but he did have a specific interest in serving the scientific community.
In 1765, he was elected to the ‘Council of the Royal Society of London,’ where he put his scientific knowledge to good use and worked on a number of committees, including the ‘Royal Greenwich Observatory.’ The following year, he published a scholarly paper titled ‘Factitious Airs.’
Henry was a member of various Royal Society scientific committees from 1769 to 1773, including the committee that spearheaded the publication of the scientific journal ‘Philosophical Transactions,’ the astronomical committee that studied the transit of Venus, the committee studying gravitational attraction of mountains, and the committee that oversaw the exploration of the North Pole.
In 1800, Henry was named manager of the newly established ‘Royal Institution of Great Britain.’ Here, the unusually gifted chemist aided Humphry Davy, a Cornish inventor, with his studies.
When a metal combines with an acid, Henry, like many of his contemporaries, notices the production of gas. He coined the term “inflammable air” (now known as hydrogen) to describe the ensuing gas and undertook groundbreaking research into its nature and qualities. In 1766, he presented his findings in detail in a paper.
The study of chemical reactions between alkalis and acids was next on Henry’s agenda. When alkalis and acids mix, a gas is produced, analogous to the reaction between metal and acid.
He investigated the chemical properties of the resulting gas, which he named “fixed air,” as well as physical aspects such as solubility and specific gravity (now known as carbon dioxide).
He investigated audiometry in 1783 and produced a new eudiometer that gave near-exact readings. In the same year, he published a report detailing his conclusions on the chemical makeup of water.
In 1785, he began researching the chemical makeup of atmospheric air, concluding that ordinary air is made up of four parts nitrogen and one part oxygen. He discovered the inert gases during this process, a concept later elucidated by prominent physicists William Ramsay and Lord Rayleigh.
Cavendish had previously interpreted heat as a product of moving matter, and in a study on the freezing point of mercury in 1783, he experimented with the concept of latent heat.
He presented his detailed results on the heat in the late 1780s, and his research foreshadowed the concept of heat conservation. He was also the first to propose that heat and work are interchangeable, as well as to explain the mechanical equivalent of heat.
After the death of British geologist John Mitchell, he resumed his studies. John, who was working on determining the density of the earth before his death, had created a device to do so. Henry made do with what he had and ruled out any possibility of arising from temperature differential or air currents.
He subsequently determined that the average density of the earth is 5.48 times that of the air, a calculation that differs only by 10% from modern-day estimations made with advanced instruments. The ‘Cavendish Experiment,’ which took place in 1798, was given that name.
Despite the fact that most of his electrical research was not published until after his death, this outstanding scientist made substantial contributions to the discipline.
He investigated electrolyte electrical conductivity and even discovered a relationship between current and electric potential. He also worked on dielectric characteristics and discovered the mathematical proof for attraction between opposite charges.
Henry’s Major Projects
Though Henry made various contributions to chemistry, he is best remembered for conducting the ‘Cavendish Experiment,’ which allowed him to calculate the mass of the Earth. His investigations yielded results that were extremely exact and precise, falling within the 10% error range of modern-day results.
Achievements & Awards
Henry received the Royal Society’s Copley Medal for his research on carbon dioxide and its chemical and physical properties.
Personal History and Legacy
Henry was an introvert who avoided female relationships at all costs; he devoted his entire life to scientific advancement.
This prominent scientist died on February 24, 1810, in his London house and was buried in England’s Derby Cathedral.
In Derby, the block where he lived was named for this illustrious scientist.
Estimated Net worth
Henry is one of the wealthiest physicists and one of the most well-known. Henry Cavendish’s net worth is estimated to be $12 billion, according to Wikipedia, Forbes, and Business Insider.
This great scientist was said to be so afraid of the female company that if any of his maids were spotted in his presence, they were fired.