Faraday’s Thermodynamic Works

I recently watched the movie Absolute Zero: Nova and it sparked an interest in thermodynamics, as well as bringing to my attention some famous chemists. One of the chemists whom I found to be intriguing was Michael Faraday.

Faraday may in fact be one of the coolest chemists to walk this Earth.  Unlike most chemists of his time, Faraday grew up without much money and had little formal education.  He taught himself scientific principles through reading books and attending lectures.  He had little knowledge of calculus, yet managed to come up with scientific constants and scales that baffle chemists to this day.  His work is invaluable.

When Faraday’s name is mentioned the first thing that comes to mind is Faraday’s constant (9.64853 x 104 C mol-1). He is also well known for his work with oxidation numbers and liquefying gases. However, many overlook Faraday’s work with thermodynamics.

Michael Faraday undertook a very dangerous experiment when he heated the hydrate of chlorine in a sealed bent tube. He placed the end of the tube containing the hydrate of chlorine in a hot bath (100 degrees) and the empty end in ice water (32 degrees). A faint yellow atmosphere filled the tube and, after some time, a yellow liquid formed in the cool end of the tube. This was of course liquid chlorine. Faraday broke the tube, sending shards of glass flying. The yellow liquid vanished.

So, what does this have to do with thermodynamics? Faraday concluded that energy had been transferred, in the form of heat, to change the state of matter of the chlorine. The absorption of heat cooled the surroundings, producing refrigeration. He did not further investigate refrigeration, but he paved the way for the development of commercially available refrigerants.

Faraday went on to discover many profound scientific principles, but his work in thermodynamics should not be overlooked. He is by far one of my favorite chemists. Even Albert Einstein kept a picture of Faraday on his study wall.

Are there any other chemists/physicist you feel left a profound impact on thermodynamics? On chemistry in general? Leave a comment below and let us know!

Picture Source: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/5/5b/Faraday-Millikan-Gale-1913.jpg

Faraday’s Hydrate of Chlorine Source: http://www.chemteam.info/Chem-History/Faraday-Chlorine-1823.html

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