The Age of Science
Sir Humphrey Davy (1778-1829)
Humphrey Davy was born on December 17, 1778 in Penzance, Cornwall. He was educated at Truro Grammar School. His father died in 1794, and Davy, in an effort to help support his family, became an apprentice to a surgeon-apothecary, J. Bingham Borlase in order to try and support his family.
In 1798, at the age of 19 he went to Bristol to study chemistry and was taken on by Thomas Beddoes at his Medical Pneumatic Institution. The Institution was founded at Clifton to enquire into the therapeutic properties of gases. In 1798, Humphrey Davy started to carry out experiments with nitrous oxide; he called it
This title was unscientific and in all probability slowed down research into its analgesic properties. He made a famous quote that set the tone for the future medical scientists that states,
“Nitrous oxide appears capable of destroying physical pain. It could be used with the advantage during surgical procedures in which no great effusion of blood takes place”.
In the same letter he said:
The pain in the head every minute increased; I was neither feverish nor thirsty; my bodily and mental debility were excessive, and the pulse feeble and quick. In this state I breathed for near a minute and a half five quarts of gas, which was brought to me by the operator for nitrous oxide; but as it produced no sensations whatever, and apparently rather increased my debility, I am almost convinced that it was from some accident, either common air, or very impure nitrous oxide” 146
In 1799 he published the details of his research in his book 'Researches, Chemical and Philosophical' which led to him being appointed a lecturer at the Royal Institution.
Much of Davy's subsequent research involved making new compounds of chlorine with nitrogen, phosphorus, and oxygen.