Who is Joseph Louis Gay-Lussac?
Joseph Louis Gay-Lussac is a French chemist and physicist whose work led to significant advances in applied chemistry. He has attracted attention with his pioneering research on the behavior of gases and the properties of cyanogen and iodine. Born as the son of a successful lawyer and had a privileged childhood, Gay-Lussac had to take a break from his education at the “Bourdeix Abbey”, where he could not pay his tuition fees due to the political turmoil during the 1789 French Revolution when his father lost his business and his wealth.
His father wanted him to become a lawyer, although his son had always been more interested in scientific matters. However, Joseph Louis Gay-Lussac, a brilliant student, succeeded in entering the “École Polytechnique”, a newly established institute where students’ expenses were covered by the state. This ensured that he received a quality education despite his family’s troubled financial situation. He eventually became a renowned chemist and physicist and went down in the history of science, gaining a great reputation for his work on the behavior of gases. Throughout his career, he collaborated with other notable scientists such as Jean-Baptiste Biot, Alexander von Humboldt, and Louis Thenard.
Gay-Lussac’s Life and Achievements
Joseph Louis Gay-Lussac was born in Saint-Léonard-de-Noblat on December 6, 1778, as the eldest son of Antoine Gay and Leonarde Bourigner. He had four siblings and his father was a famous lawyer who worked as a lawyer, prosecutor and judge for Noblat. The French Revolution drastically changed the family’s finances. His father was arrested as a suspect and imprisoned from 1793 until 1794. His family also lost most of his wealth. Gay-Lussac entered the “École Polytechnique” in 1797, where he showed great success in the entrance examination and graduated in 1800 as the favorite student of Claude Louis Berthollet under his wing. After his graduation, he also entered the “École Nationale des Ponts et Chaussées”, a civil engineering school. However, he left shortly afterward due to his great interest in chemistry.
In 1801, he became a research assistant for Claude Louis Berthollet, who was impressed by his abilities. Berthollet had recently set up a laboratory in his country house in Arcueil, just outside Paris, and played an important role in the professional development of Joseph Louis Gay-Lussac. He collaborated with the famous mathematician Pierre-Simon Laplace in his research on forces.
In his experiments on the thermal expansion of gases in 1801-1802, he concluded that using dry gases and pure mercury, all gases expand equally in the temperature range 0 – 100 ° C (32 – 1212 ° F). He became a chemistry professor in 1809. The same year he married Geneviève-Marie-Joseph Rojot and had a happy marriage that lasted for forty years and raised five children. Joseph Louis Gay-Lussac, who also worked as a physics professor at the “Sorbonne” from 1808 to 1832, went on a European tour with Alexander von Humboldt in 1805–1806. During their joint work during this journey, they discovered that the composition of the atmosphere does not change with decreasing pressure (with increasing altitude).
Gay-Lussac also revealed that hydrogen and oxygen combine to form water in a ratio of 2: 1 by volume. He discovered the law of gas volumes (the law of total volume) unified in 1808. He also studied the reactions between hydrogen chloride and ammonia, which combine in equal volumes to form ammonium chloride.
In 1816 he became co-editor of “Annales de Chimie et de physique” with François Arago. This was an influential position and contributed significantly to his income. He became a member of the “gunpowder commission” in 1818, and in 1829 he was appointed director of the testing department in Paris. This position also earned him a lot of money. His acceptance of these positions was criticized by his colleagues, who accused him of turning his life towards financial gain rather than devoting his life to pure science.
Joseph Louis Gay-Lussac also developed the portable barometer, steam injector pump, and the air thermometer as an inventor, giving science in 1824 the terms “burette” and “pipette”, for which he created the advanced version. In 1821 he was elected as a foreign member of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences. He was honored by King Louis Philippe in 1839, and his name was written among French scientists, engineers, and mathematicians, a total of 72 people at the Eiffel Tower. Gay-Lussac died in Paris on May 9, 1850, whose last years were seriously ill.
- Maurice Crosland, “Gay-Lussac: Savant et Bourgeois”, Belin, Collection: Un savant, une epoque.