Davy VS Gay-Lussac in the Race to Discover Iodine

He was warmly received by Cuvier, Ampère and Berthollet, but got into an awkward priority dispute with the gifted young chemist Joseph Gay-Lussac. Gay-Lussac, Davy’s exact contemporary, had made a popular name in France with his intrepid ballooning exploits, and had been hard on Davy’s heels with potassium and sodium experiments. Both were now given by the Académie des Sciences a newly isolated substance to analyse: a strange violet crystal recently found as a byproduct of gunpowder manufacture. The competitive nature of this gesture was unmistakeable. Davy had only his small trunk of portable chemical apparatus to work with, but accepted the challenge with alacrity. He delayed his departure from Paris for a month, closeting himself with Faraday, filling his hotel rooms with acrid fumes and ‘very bright greenest yellow’ gas, much to Faraday’s delight, Jane’s irritation and the management’s alarm.

The rival analytic papers were submitted to the Académie almost simultaneously in December. Both identified the crystals as a new element, which could also be extracted from seaweed. Gay-Lussac’s short paper was actually presented and published first, on 12 December. Davy, taken by surprise, presented his to the Académie on 13 December, but unblushingly antedated it to 11 December, and had it published as such in the Journal de Physique. He claimed, perhaps justly, that he had previously shared his key ideas with Gay-Lussac.59 He also wrote to Banks claiming the entire discovery for himself, and had a full account swiftly published by the Royal Society. In consequence his analysis and naming of the unknown substance as ‘iodine’ was generally accepted, although the priority remains disputed by the French to this day.


Still disputed as to who won the race.

Folksonomies: chemistry discovery iodine

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Iodine (0.951954): dbpedia | freebase | opencyc
Humphry Davy (0.824435): dbpedia | freebase | yago
Members of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences (0.768500): dbpedia
Potassium (0.724554): dbpedia | freebase | opencyc
Chemistry (0.703762): dbpedia | freebase | opencyc
Sodium (0.667003): dbpedia | freebase | opencyc
Joseph Louis Gay-Lussac (0.653117): dbpedia | freebase | yago
2006 (0.638574): dbpedia | freebase

 The Age of Wonder
Books, Brochures, and Chapters>Book:  Holmes , Richard (2010-03-02), The Age of Wonder, Vintage, Retrieved on 2012-01-02
  • Source Material [books.google.com]
  • Folksonomies: history enlightenment science