(December 17, 1778 – May 29, 1829)
Humphry Davy was a prolific experimenter who nurtured the greatest of all experimentalists, Michael Faraday. He also exerted influence on William Thompson Kelvin (and on several other researchers who later gained prominence). Like Faraday, he was born into a poor family, and had to overcome difficulties in becoming one of 19th century’s most notable scientists. His interest in chemistry began after he was apprenticed to a surgeon who also maintained an apothecary (in 1795). He would later take advantage of the batteries (i.e. voltaic piles) which Alessandro Volta invented. With them he conducted electrochemical experiments that enabled him to isolate samples of alkali metals (potassium and sodium), alkaline earth metals (calcium, barium, magnesium and strontium), halogens (chlorine and iodine), as well as aluminium and boron. His research on nitrous oxide (N2O) are also well-documented. And he is credited with authoring the first essay on how to apply chemistry to agriculture. In 1802 he connected a high capacity battery to a platinum filament which resulted in the production of incandescent light. This alongside the one Ebenezer Kinnersley demonstrated in 1761 became the forerunner of what Joseph Swan and Thomas Edison later produced as electric bulbs. Davy is also remembered for the safety lamp he invented in order to replace the explosion-prone candles used by miners at Newcastle and other places. Like Claude Bernard who initially aspired to be a playwright, Humphry Davy enjoyed literature, and wrote several poems. For his scientific contributions, the lunar impact crater Davy was named after him.


  1. At the age of six, Davy was sent to the grammar school at Penzance. Three years later, his family moved to Varfell, near Ludgvan , and subsequently, in term-time Davy boarded with John Tonkin, his godfather and later his guardian.

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