Sunday, October 6, 2013

Joseph Priestley - The Citizen Scientist That Discovered Oxygen


A priest, a linguist, and a chemist walk into a bar.  Some might mistakenly think this is the start of a bad joke.  Instead it's just the life of citizen scientist Joseph Priestley.

Most people learn about Priestley as the man who discovered both carbon dioxide and oxygen.  They may also learn about his role as the first person to describe photosynthesis.  But what they likely don't learn is that he was just an amateur scientist with no academic training in the sciences.  It wasn't even his initial occupation (clergyman) or what he is most known for (philosophy).  To help round out this fascinating man, Author John Malone gives a short yet insightful description of his citizen science background in his book "It Doesn't Take a Rocket Scientist: Great Amateurs of Science". 

Born on March 24, 1733, Priestley spent his early years raised as a Calvinist but quickly began searching for his religious bearings, ultimately becoming a priest in the Dissenter (and later Unitarian) church in his late teens.  He spent this time preaching at local churches, writing well-regarded books on grammar, and teaching both languages and rhetoric.

While his newfound faith may have separated him from the mainstream of religious thought of that era, it did open up a world for new philosophical inquiry.  This would come into play when a met a famous American in his mid 40s.  As Malone describes it, 
"Unitarians tended toward very liberal political views from the starts, so it was hardly surprising that Priestley would hit it off so well with Benjamin Franklin when the two met in London in 1776….The interest in electricity that Franklin aroused in Priestley was strikingly rewarded within a year, when the clergyman was able to demonstrate that graphite conducted electricity."
 
How did this meeting happen?  Well, by the 1770s Priestley had already been making quite a name for himself.  As a "quintessential amateur" he had a curious mind that would latch onto a question, research it, and methodically experiment until he found his answer.  This led to one of his earliest discoveries, the creation of sparkling water by infusing carbon dioxide into water, and earned him the prized Copley Medal in 1773.  
 
With the Copley in hand he quickly earned a spot in the Royal Society in 1776.  It also helped him land the rich William Petty (Earl of Shelburne) as a patron for his future studies. As Malone again describes,
"It was quite common among the aristocracy to employ an artist, writer, or naturalist (as scientists were generally called) to serve as an intellectual companion.  By this time Priestley was quite a catch, and he was able to command a very comfortable situation…It was over the next several years that Priestley did his most important scientific work."

Having a patron meant not just a steady source of income, but also a steady source of time for devoting to one's personal interests.  This let Priestley continue letting his mind wander.  For example, at one point he had heard of some discoveries from the mysterious Americas that were all the rage in Europe.  There was one tree in particular with a "a gummy substance secreted by a South American tree" that had very unusual properties.  Many people were playing and experimenting with it.  But Priestley was the first person to notice that not only was it stretchable and pliable, but it could also be rubbed on a piece of paper to make any writing on it disappear.  He called this a "rubber" and the term, as well as his invention of the eraser, stuck.
 
While having a patron probably ended his time as a "citizen scientist", many of his discoveries came before he had this support.  He just kept up with the discoveries of the day and was an avid experimenter, often using items from around the house (such as laundry tubs or household jars) for his research.  While he would later have friends like china-maker Josiah Wedgwood create custom laboratory equipment for him, he still discovered much as an amateur with materials from home.
 
It should be noted one of the other reasons Priestley became so famous.  Not only was he naturally curious and an astute scientist, but he also knew the value of quickly publishing his discoveries.  Unlike some modern amateur scientists who may be intimidated by the committing themselves formally to paper, Priestley recognized it's value.  In fact his early publication helped support his claim as the first to discover Oxygen, when two others (including Antoine Lavoisier) later tried to take credit for it.
 
Ultimately Joseph Priestley died in early 1804 after a distinguished career.  In his book Malone sums him up best:
 
"Most great amateur scientists are known to us chiefly because of that scientific work.  But Priestley was different..  His theological treatises had great impact, particularly in America, where the first Universalist church to carry that name was founded in Gloucester, Massachusetts, in 1799.  Some treatments of Priestley's life are chiefly devoted to his theology and the liberal political beliefs associated with it.  Others concentrate on his numerous scientific discoveries.  Some religious historians claim that Priestley would have wanted to be remembered primarily as a theologian, but others are quite certain that his discovery of Oxygen was the high point of his life...He was certainly a very influential theologian, but he was also a major scientific figure.  In fact, Joseph Priestley packed more accomplishments in to a lifetime than most of us can even dream about, to the extent that it is difficult to see him whole, so brightly do the individual parts shine."

45 comments:

  1. These days the place of material is essay writing services day by day and the aspects of writing are changing very instantly. However, the common tendency is most of the students are still not aware of this interesting truth.

    ReplyDelete
  2. If you are a student and are interested in getting good grades, you have to work hard...but you can also use custom essay writing services. I'm an essay writer, so if you need my help, do not hesitate to contact me at special-essays.com. I'll be glad to help you)

    ReplyDelete
  3. Joseph Priestley is a the citizen scientist that discovered oxygen. Once at college I wrote an essay about him. Helped me here www.best-essays-writers.com .

    ReplyDelete
  4. There are so many young people who really would like to get their Higher Education diploma, but unfortunately due to many reasons they cannot afford it. Is there any solution? I doubt that there is one at this point. Would have been nice if more grants were at least available for talented kids: writers (custom paper), researchers, artists, etc. Or maybe good discounts for them. In any case, something that would allow them to study!

    ReplyDelete
  5. Thank you for share this informative post.

    ReplyDelete
  6. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

    ReplyDelete
  7. I have never read so much useful information about Joseph Priestley. college papers written by the experienced writers from this service about him deserved grade A. My professor was surprised and me too.

    ReplyDelete
  8. I like your all post. You have done really good work.

    ReplyDelete
  9. I am always interested in this subject. Thanks for sharing.
    selbstklebende bh

    ReplyDelete
  10. I need a custom essay writer for my E-library and I want to rewrite some famous story. Few days ago my friend tag a link my facebook time line and he told me by this site I will get best writer . I am solving my problem by custom essay writing service web site then I have shared my feeling.

    ReplyDelete
  11. The article you have shared here very awesome. I really like and appreciated your work. I read deeply your article, the points you have mentioned in this article are useful
    whatsapp baixar | Facebook Lite


    ReplyDelete
  12. Its very helping post and I would like to say that your writing so unique and useful for us.
    Acer Coupon code

    ReplyDelete
  13. Wow, awesome post.Really thank you!
    LINK ALTERNATIF POKER

    ReplyDelete
  14. Wow! Learning about oxygen but never thought about who discover it :o Thank you for sharing!
    instagram online

    ReplyDelete
  15. In some cases people may likewise feel the requirement for taking a tract credit in spite of the fact that they are not occupied with growing land and will require cash to chip away at one property as it were. Car Title Loans Chicago

    ReplyDelete
  16. http://www.openscientist.org/2013/10/joseph-priestley-citizen-scientist-that.html?
    Payday Loans

    ReplyDelete
  17. Assess in the event that you genuinely need to settle for settled rate home credit. With such a credit, it has their impediments. One of these is that you will as of now have a thought of the amount you will pay for your home advance inside two or three years. The main issue is you will have lesser adaptability. Payday Loans

    ReplyDelete
  18. Be set up for the way that the moneylender will run a credit keep an eye on both you and any co-borrower with a specific end goal to decide the level of credit hazard you display. This is a piece of the way toward getting to be pre-affirmed in the home purchasing process. payday loans san-diego

    ReplyDelete
  19. This comment has been removed by the author.

    ReplyDelete
  20. That is a good post. This post provides truly quality information. I’m bound to consider it. Very helpful tips are given here really. Thank you a great deal. Keep up the nice works.
    Female Escorts Services in Gurgaon
    Independent Escorts Services in Delhi
    Free Classified Ads Site, Indian Free Classified Ads

    ReplyDelete
  21. DEWAJUDIQQ merupakan situs judi kartu online terbaik dan terpercaya di INDONESIA, Disini dipastikan tidak ada campur tangan BOT dalam permainan. DIJAMIN 200% play FAIR (player vs player).
    Dengan 1 akun anda sudah dapat bermain 7jenis permainan yang sudah disediakan oleh DEWAJUDIQQ
    * POKER
    * DominoQQ
    * AduQ
    * CAPSASUSUN
    * BANDARQ
    * BANDAR POKER
    * BANDAR SAKONG (NEW GAME)
    Bila anda mempunyai pertanyaan silahkan langsung menghubungi kami di :
    Twitter : dewajudiqq99
    Facebook : dewajudiqq
    Instagram : Dewajudiqq
    BBM : 2AF2314F
    WA : +85593827763

    ReplyDelete
  22. You have to go through today with rhythm. Let your life rhythmically like a song, thank you for the information you have presented obat batu ginjal obat leukosit tinggi

    ReplyDelete
  23. Hi
    I read your post.this article was very effective and helpful to us. thanks for sharing this amazing article. I am resently
    posted at prince zamira,Ladies totes is most important accessories of a women. In this totes bag I can bear all essential accessories .
    Women need fashionable and comfortable hand bag for party.our totes bag design is nice..Everybody should try to follow this.

    ReplyDelete
  24. Excellent post. I used to be checking continuously this blog and I’m impressed!
    Very helpful info particularly the ultimate part
    care for such information much. I used to be seeking this Jelly Gamat Bali
    particular info for a long time.

    ReplyDelete