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Sunday, 16 February 2014

Henry Cavendish

Henry Cavendish was born on October 10, 1731 in Nice, where his family was living at the time. His mother was Lady Anne Grey, fourth daughter of Henry Grey, 1st Duke of Kent and his father was Lord Charles Cavendish, third son of William Cavendish, 2nd Duke of Devonshire.

Lady Anne died in 1733, leaving Charles to bring up his two sons.

Lord Charles Cavendish lived a life of service, first in politics and then increasingly in science, especially in the Royal Society of London. In 1758 he took Henry to meetings of the Royal Society and also to dinners of the Royal Society Club.

Like his father, Henry Cavendish lived a life of service to science, both through his researches and through his participation in scientific organizations.

Henry Cavendish was the first to recognize hydrogen gas as a discrete substance, by naming the gas from a metal-acid reaction "flammable air". He is usually given credit for its discovery as an element.

Cavendish's apparatus for making and collecting hydrogen

Cavendish demonstrated in 1784 that water is produced when hydrogen burns in air, thus proving that water is a compound and not an element.

The Cavendish experiment in 1798 enabled him to discover the mass and density of the Earth. The result that Cavendish obtained for the density of the Earth is within 1 percent of the currently accepted figure.

Cavendish was painfully shy and could barely speak to one person – never to two. He was so timid in the presence of women that he communicated with his female servants by notes only. If one crossed his path in his house, she was fired on the spot. He built a separate entrance to the house so that he could come and go without meeting anyone. In the end, he insisted on dying alone.

The only socialising Cavendish would endure was to attend dinner at the Royal Society with fellow scientists. However, it was made clear to fellow guests that Cavendish could not be approached or even directly looked at.

Wikipedia Commons

Cavendish died on February 24, 1810 (as one of the wealthiest men in Britain) and was buried, along with many of his ancestors, in the church that is now Derby Cathedral.

Sources Cool trivia, Daily Mail, Hutchinson Enyclopedia © RM 2014. Helicon Publishing is division of RM.

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