Robert Boyle


Robert Boyle is considered both the founder of modern chemistry and the
greatest English scientist to live during the first thirty years of the
existence of the Royal Society. He was not only a chemist and a physicist as we
know him to be, but also an avid theologian, a philanthropist, an essayist, and
a beginner in medicine. Born in Lismore, Ireland to Richard Boyle, first earl
of Cork, and Katherine Fenton, his second wife, Boyle was the youngest son in a
family of fourteen. However he was not shortchanged of anything. After private
tutoring at home for eight years, Robert Boyle was sent to Eton College where he
studied for four years. At the age of twelve, Boyle traveled to the Continent,
as it was referred to at the time. There he found a private tutor by the name
of Marcombes in Geneva. While traveling between Italy, France, and England,
Boyle was being tutored in the polite arts, philosophy, theology, mathematics,
and science.

As the years went by, Boyle became more and more interested in medicine.
His curiosity in this field led him to chemistry. At first Boyle was mainly
interested in the facet of chemistry that dealt with the preparation of drugs,
but soon he became genuinely interested in the subject and started to study it
in great detail. His studies led him to Oxford where he joined such scientists
as John Wilkins and John Wallis, and together in 1660, they founded the Royal
Society of London for the Advancement of Science.

From this point onwards, Boyle seriously undertook the reformation of
science. For centuries scientists had been explaining the unknown with the
simple explanation that god made it that way. Though Boyle did not argue with
this, he did believe that there was a scientific explanation for god\'s doings.
Boyle\'s point of view can be seen by his dealings with the elements. At this
time it was thought that an element was not only the simplest body to which
something could be broken down, but also a necessary component of all bodies.
Meaning that if oil was an element, it would not be able to be broken down, and
it would be found in everything. Boyle did not accept this theory, whether it
referred to the earth, air, fire, and water of the Aristotelians, the salt,
sulfur, and mercury of the Paracelsans, or the phlegm, oil, spirit, acid, and
alkali of later chemists. He did not believe that these elements were truly
fundamental in their nature. Boyle thought that the only things common in all
bodies were corpuscles, atom-like structures that were created by god and that
now occupy all void space. He began to preform experiments, concentrating on
the color changes that took place in reactions. He started to devise a system
of classification based on the properties of substances. By showing that acids
turned the blue syrup of violets red, Boyle claimed that all acids react in the
same manner with violet syrup and those that did not, were not acids. Similarly,
he showed that all alkalies turned the syrup of violets green. Observing that
the blue opalescence of the yellow solution of lignum nephriticum was destroyed
when the solution was acidified and could be restored by the addition of alkali,
Boyle used this experiment to test the strength of acids and alkalies. His
system therefore consisted of three categories: acids, alkalies, and those
substances that are neither acids nor alkalies. However he purposefully avoided
any investigation of corpuscles. Boyle continued his work on acids and alkalies.
He devised tests for the identification of copper by the blue of its solutions,
for silver by its ability to form silver chloride, with its blackening over time,
and for sulfur and many other mineral acids by their distinctive reactions.

Therefore, knowing that it was not actually Boyle who discovered his law,
but Towneley and Power who did in 1662 and then Hooke who confirmed it soon
thereafter, it can be said that this was Boyle\'s greatest achievement. His
achievement being the conversion of scientific thought from one in which the
spirits and the heavens were kept in mind at all times, to one based on
experimentation and the use of deduction, not assumption. It cannot be stressed
strongly enough what this did for science in general. Boyle\'s work sparked the
beginning of a new era, one in which careful experimentation was the
justification for a hypothesis, and thus he is accordingly bestowed with the
honor of being the founder of modern chemistry.

Boyle also did extensive work with the air pump, proving