3 Chemistry Experiments that Changed the World

Chemists are making discoveries that change our lives. In this video, you will find out about 3 of the most significant chemical experiments of all time.

3. Joseph Priestley Discovers Oxygen

Joseph Priestley. was an English Clergyman who discovered oxygen whilst carrying out a series of experiments in 1774. He devised a system of collecting gases using a water trough and upturned jars. His experiment was to heat different chemicals and to collect any gases that were given off. He discovered many different ones including nitrous oxide – also called laughing gas, once used as an anaesthetic). Perhaps the most important of all was oxygen. He collected it when he heated mercuric oxide using a magnifying glass to focus the Sun’s heat on it. When he breathed the gas that was produced, which we know now isn’t really a sensible thing o do with unknown gases, he felt invigorated. Priestley didn’t call it oxygen, he called it ‘dephlogisticated air’ as he didn’t really understand what he had discovered.

2. Michael Faraday Finds Ions

In second place is Sir Michael Faraday’s discovery of ions in 1834. He was a physical scientist and was interested in both chemistry and physics. He carried out a number of experiments with water and electricity and found that some substances when dissolved in water conducted electricity. Like Priestley, he didn’t really understand what was happening but he came to the conclusion that it was caused by two different types of charged particle that were moving through the water. His friend, William Whewel came up with the name ‘ions’ which is ancient Greek for ‘moving’.

1. Charles Gerhart Discovers Asperin

Taking the number 1 slot, is Charles Gerhart’s discovery of how to make acetylsalicylic acid – aspirin. He did it by analysing the active ingredient in White Willow bark, a substance that had been used for a long time as a painkiller. The next step was to work out how to make it, He succeeded in 1853, 3 years before he died at the early age of just 40. The reason that this is such a significant moment in science was that it showed that chemistry could be used to make things that could cure people.

Each of these 3 great chemists contributed to science in their own way. Priestley paved the way for us to let go of the Greek’s idea that everything was made from Earth, Fire, Water and Air. Faraday’s meticulous experimental work on ions led to the development of electrolysis which is a widely used process in modern industry and Gerhart’s work was the birth of the pharmaceutical industry that led to major increases in the quality and length of human lives.

Taught science for 16 years at a secondary school in the East Midlands.