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Sunday, 14 April 2013

Robert Boyle

Irish chemist Robert Boyle was born on January 25, 1627. He was the seventh son (and fourteenth child) of Richard Boyle, Earl of Cork and Catherine Fenton, Boyle's father had left England in 1588 at the age of 22 and gone to Ireland. Appointed clerk of the council of Munster by Elizabeth I in 1600, he bought Sir Walter Raleigh's estates in the counties of Cork, Waterford, and Tipperary two years later. He was said to be the richest man in Great Britain.

His mother was Richard Boyle's second wife, his first having died within a year of the birth of their first child.

Robert was sent, together with one of his brothers, to study at Eton College in England in 1635. At this time the school was becoming fashionable as a place where important people sent their sons. The headmaster was John Harrison and the two young Boyle brothers lived in the headmaster's house. When Harrison retired in 1638, the Earl of Cork took his sons away from Eton. After this Boyle was tutored privately by one of his father's chaplains.

Robert Boyle was still living in Geneva when his father died. In the summer of 1644 he sold some jewellery and used the money that he was paid to finance his return trip to England.

Boyle went to Ireland in 1652 to look after his estates there. He ended up a very rich man when Oliver Cromwell apportioned Irish lands to the English colonists. From that time on he was able to devote himself entirely to science without the need to earn money.

Boyle decided to go to Oxford where he joined a group of forward looking scientists, including Christopher Wren. From 1654 Boyle lived in Oxford, although he never held any university post.

In 1662 he conceived Boyle’s Law, which says that the pressure of gases varies inversely with the volume. His description of an ideal gas first appeared in an appendix to his work New Experiments Physio-Mechanicall, Touching the Spring of the Air and its Effects (1660).


Among his other discoveries were that sound did not travel in a vacuum, a flame required air as did life, and he investigated the elastic properties of air.

Robert Boyle accurately predicted that the future would have organ transplants, cosmetic surgery, flight, underwater explorations and GPS navigation.

Boyle was an eager Christian, fluent in Hebrew, Greek, and Syriac he spent much of his private wealth on promoting the study of the Bible. As a director of the East India Company, he encouraged Christian missionary work in the Far East.

In 1668 Boyle left Oxford and went to live with his sister Lady Ranelagh in London.

In June 1670 Boyle had a stroke which left him paralyzed but slowly he recovered his health. He continued to work and to entertain at his London home. Visitors were so frequent that he had to restrict visits so that he had time to continue with his scientific researches, which he did with the help of many excellent assistants.

He died on December 31, 1691 from paralysis. Boyle passed away just a week after the death of the sister with whom he had lived for more than twenty years.

Boyle was buried in the churchyard of St Martin-in-the-Fields, his funeral sermon being preached by his friend Bishop Gilbert Burnet.

In his will, Boyle endowed a series of lectures which came to be known as the Boyle Lectures. They were intended to defend the Christian religion against those he considered "notorious infidels, namely atheists, deists, pagans, Jews and Muslims".

Source History.mcs.st-andrews

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