Louis Jacques Thénard

1777 (La Louptière, France) – 1857 (Paris)

Vauquelin and Fourcroy taught him, and helped him get a post as Gay-Lussac’s demonstrator at the École Polytechnique, the start of a lifelong friendship and professional relationship; both Gay-Lussac and Biot did important collaborative work with Thénard. He queried Berthollet’s views on oxides; Berthollet invited him to join his Société d’Arcueil. With Chaptal, he co-founded La SEIN, an influential Society for the Encouragement of Industry; Chaptal’s demands also led him to develop the pigment cobalt blue. Wöhler (whose collaborator Liebig had studied with Thénard) wrote excitedly to Berzelius about meeting him on a visit to Paris.

Justus von Liebig

1803 (Darmstadt, Germany) – 1873 (Munich)

Liebig was immensely influential, not least in founding modern organic chemistry, and the research laboratory. He worked as an assistant in Gay-Lussac’s laboratory; Humboldt introduced them. Among his research students, Hofmann worked with him on aniline, Strecker on amino acids, Pettenkofer on meat juices (Liebig’s company eventually patented Oxo), and Schmidt on fertilisers. Wöhler was a regular collaborator, Regnault and Voit were also among his students, while Bunsen went to Giessen to meet him. Kekulé worked with him on benzene; they gave evidence convicting a servant of murder, showing that however much alcohol his employer had drunk, she couldn’t have spontaneously combusted.

Leonard Gale

1800 (Millbury, Mass.) – 1883 (Washington, D.C.)

Gale was a professor of chemistry at what was to become New York University, where Morse was professor of painting. He advised Morse on batteries and electromagnets for his experiments in telegraphy, so signal strength could be increased, and suggested he read a relevant paper of Henry’s, a personal friend of Gale’s. Vail and Gale as crucial technical collaborators of Morse’s were brought in a business partners in the venture, though perhaps inevitably they eventually fell out over the matter of royalties.

Joseph Priestley

1733 (Birstall, England) – 1804 (Northumberland, Pa.)

Josiah Wedgwood funded Priestley’s experiments and was a fellow-member of the Lunar Society, as were Boulton, Watt, Darwin and Keir (who helped him with experiments). Wilkinson was his wife’s brother, Hill helped run his Sunday school, Price preceded him in his Hackney ministry, and Banks offered to get him on one of Cook’s voyages. He met and corresponded with Lavoisier, who took all the credit for the discovery of oxygen. Blake knew him through Johnson. Silliman was impressed by his discovery of soda water, Jefferson sought his curricular advice, and Franklin (a Lunar Society guest) called him an “honest heretic.”

John William Draper

1811 (St. Helens, England) – 1882 (Hastings, N.Y.)

Henry and Daniel were two of his sons. Draper studied chemistry under Turner (who first interested him in the chemical effects of light) in London. Morse and Draper had collaborated in work towards the electric telegraph. Draper had been experimenting with photographic processes before Daguerre’s invention of photography, was quickly able to improve on aspects of it, took the first photograph of the moon, and opened a portrait studio in New York with Morse in 1840. His correspondents included Herschel, Darwin, Silliman, Spencer, Holmes, and Tyndall.

James Hutton

1726 (Edinburgh) – 1797 (Edinburgh)

One of the founders of modern geology. When the middle-aged Hutton returned to the intellectual ferment of Edinburgh, Smith, Black and Watt became his most important friends. Most, along with Hume and Ferguson, were members of the convivial and influential ‘Poker Club’, with its sherry, claret and shilling dinners. Hutton and Playfair made a voyage to examine coastal rock formations, though Playfair (who helped spread his ideas) regretted that Hutton’s dense prose got in the way of his work’s appreciation. On a geological tour of England, Hutton dragged Watt around salt-mines and conducted elaborate experiments with Edgeworth and Darwin.

Claude-Louis Berthollet

1748 (Tailloires, France) – 1822 (Arcueil)

Lavoisier, Fourcroy, Guyton de Morveau and Berthollet together established the modern naming-system for chemical compounds. With Laplace he founded the influential Société d’Arcueil; members included Gay-Lussac and Humboldt, Humboldt naming the brazil-nut tree (Bertholletia excelsa) after his friend. Berthollet and Monge, old friends, were sent to Italy to ship paintings and sculptures to France, and jointly ran Napoleon’s Institut d’Egypte. Watt was a close acqaintance and great correspondent, and Berzelius exchanged letters about the presence of fluoride in water. Thénard was one of his students.

Humphry Davy

Humphrey Davy

1778 (Penzance, England) – 1829 (Geneva)

Davy’s close friends Coleridge and Southey, also Roget, participated in his laughing-gas experiments. Banks, Cavendish and Thompson offered him help in his electro-chemical researches. He wrote up Wedgwood’s photographic experiments and climbed Helvellyn with Wordsworth, Southey and Scott. Faraday became his assistant after he temporarily blinded himself, Davy claiming him as his greatest scientific discovery; on a two-year European journey, they visited Ampère, Hachette, Cuvier, Berthollet, Volta and the de la Rives, among others. Coleridge said he went to Davy’s lectures to increase his stock of metaphors.

Edward Turner

1798 (Teak Pen, Jamaica) – 1837 (London)

Turner was the first professor of chemistry at University College London. He had studied under Stromeyer in Göttingen, and dedicated his ‘Elements of Chemistry’ to him. Draper studied with Turner, who first interested him in the chemical effects of light. Gregory became his assistant. Berzelius was among his correspondents. There are few sources of biographical information online.