Priestley (1733-1804) was hugely productive in research and widely notorious in philosophy.He invented carbonated water and the rubber eraser, identified a dozen key chemical compounds, and wrote an important early paper about electricity.Among them was the colorless and highly reactive gas he called "dephlogisticated air," to which the great French chemist Antoine Lavoisier would soon give the name "oxygen." It is hard to overstate the importance of Priestley's revelation.
Aside from what he learned in the local schools, he taught himself Latin, Greek, French, Italian, German and a smattering of Middle Eastern languages, along with mathematics and philosophy.
This preparation would have been ideal for study at Oxford or Cambridge, but as a Dissenter (someone who was not a member of the Church of England) Priestley was barred from England's great universities.
An Englishman by birth, Priestley was deeply involved in politics and religion, as well as science.
When his vocal support for the American and French revolutions made remaining in his homeland dangerous, Priestley left England in 1794 and continued his work in America until his death.
They comprise 78 and 21 percent of the atmosphere, respectively.
Back to top In the mid-18th century, the concept of an element was still evolving.
So he enrolled at Daventry Academy, a celebrated school for Dissenters, and was exempted from a year of classes because of his achievements.
After graduation, he supported himself, as he would for the rest of his life, by teaching, tutoring and preaching.
Back to top In 1767, Priestley was offered a ministry in Leeds, Englane, located near a brewery.
This abundant and convenient source of "fixed air” — what we now know as carbon dioxide — from fermentation sparked his lifetime investigation into the chemistry of gases.