Joseph Louis Gay-Lussac and his Work on Gases

Joseph Louis Gay-Lussac

Joseph Louis Gay-Lussac

On December 6, 1778, French chemist and physicist Joseph Louis Gay-Lussac was born. He is known mostly for two laws related to gases, and for his work on alcohol-water mixtures, which led to the degrees Gay-Lussac used to measure alcoholic beverages in many countries.

Gay-Lussac was born at Saint-Léonard-de-Noblat in the present-day department of Haute-Vienne. His father was a lawyer and prosecutor, and worked as a judge in Noblat Bridge. He received his early education at the hands of the Catholic Abbey of Bourdeix. Later, in the care of the Abbot of Dumonteil he began his education in Paris, finally entering the École Polytechnique in 1798.

When he entered the École Polytechnique his father had been arrested, as it is believed. Three years later, Gay-Lussac transferred to the École des Ponts et Chaussées, and shortly afterwards was assigned to C. L. Berthollet as his assistant. In 1802, he was appointed demonstrator to A. F. Fourcroy at the École Polytechnique, where he became professor of chemistry. From 1808 to 1832, he was professor of physics at the Sorbonne, a post which he only resigned for the chair of chemistry at the Jardin des Plantes. In 1821, he was elected a foreign member of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences. In 1831 he was elected to represent Haute-Vienne in the chamber of deputies, and in 1839 he entered the chamber of peers.

In 1802, Gay-Lussac first formulated the law, Gay-Lussac’s Law. He stated that if the mass and volume of a gas are held constant then gas pressure increases linearly as the temperature rises. His work was preceded by that of Guillaume Amontons, who established the rough relation without the use of accurate thermometers. Two years later, he made a hot-air balloon ascent to a height of 7,016 metres along with Jean-Baptiste Biot in order to investigate Earth’s atmosphere. Gay-Lussac and his friend Alexander von Humboldt discovered that the composition of the atmosphere does not change with decreasing pressure in 1805. Joseph Louis Gay-Lussac co-discovered boron and developed a method for quantitative elemental analysis by measuring the CO2 and O2 evolved by reaction with potassium chlorate along with Louis Thenard. In 1811, Gay-Lussac recognized iodine as a new element, described its properties, and suggested the name iode.

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