Early Chemistry and Gases
The Chemical Revolution of the late 18th century was based in large part on Antoine-Laurent Lavoisier's new understanding of the chemical role of a gas—oxygen—in explaining combustion, respiration, and metallurgical processes like smelting. This advance in the theory of material change drew upon earlier work by other chemists, such as Joseph Priestley, who demonstrated that the air we breathe, previously thought to be uniform and not a kind of matter like solids or liquids, is in fact made up of several gases with different properties. Lavoisier’s successors further explored the character of gases. Their theoretical advances eventually proved of great importance to modern society: many industrial processes require gases and their compounds and rely on a thorough understanding of the reactions that produce them.
Every general-chemistry student learns of Robert Boyle as the person who discovered that the volume of a gas decreases with increasing pressure and vice versa—the famous Boyle’s law.
Joseph Priestley, best remembered for his discovery of oxygen, was ceremoniously welcomed to the United States in 1794 as a leading contemporary thinker and friend of the new republic. He was known to Americans at least as well for his prodigious political and theological writings as for his scientific contributions.
Lavoisier, a meticulous experimenter, revolutionized chemistry by establishing the law of conservation of mass, determining that combustion and respiration are caused by chemical reactions with what he named “oxygen,” and helping systematize chemical nomenclature, among many other accomplishments.
Eleuthère Irénée du Pont was the founder of the DuPont Company, a major American business enterprise that got its start in gunpowder.
Gay-Lussac's law (1808) states that gases at constant temperature and pressure combine in simple numerical proportions by volume, and the resulting product(s)—if gases—also bear a simple proportion by volume to the volumes of the reactants.
Alfred Nobel, of the famed Nobel Prizes, was a Swedish chemist who invented dynamite. One thousand times more powerful than black powder, dynamite expedited the building of roads, tunnels, canals, and other construction projects worldwide.
Carl von Linde developed modern refrigeration and was the first person to extract oxygen gas from the air, making it a commercially viable product and thus launching the industrial gas industry.
This controversial German chemist received the Nobel Prize in chemistry in 1918 for the synthesis of ammonia from its elements, hydrogen and nitrogen. The nitric acid produced from the ammonia was then used to manufacture agricultural fertilizers as well as explosives.