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A history of the international chemical industry by Fred Aftalion

By Fred Aftalion

Goals to supply a world point of view on chemistry, integrating the tale of chemical technology with that of the chemical undefined, and emphasizing very important advancements of the 20 th century.

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The small amounts of acid available from Nordhausen in Saxony were very expensive, however. In 1736 in Twickenham an Englishman, Joshua Ward, first succeeded in reducing the manufacturing cost of sulfuric acid by burning a mixture of sulfur and saltpeter1 above a thin layer of water in large, wide-necked glass jars. The dilute acid produced was concentrated through distillation. A decisive breakthrough occurred in 1746 when one of his fellow countrymen, John Roebuck of Birmingham, replaced the fragile glass containers by vast lead-coated chambers set in an imposing installation.

In a memoir to the Académie des Sciences dated 1783, he argued at length against the phlogiston theory and was supported by the French mathematician and astronomer Pierre Simon de Laplace, as well as by the chemists Claude Louis Berthollet, Louis Bernard Guyton de Morveau, and Antoine François Fourcroy. These three chemists joined Lavoisier in establishing a new method of chemical nomenclature that was published in 1787, soon to be widely accepted. The compounds of oxygen with metals were called oxides, while those between oxygen and non-metals such as sulfur were denominated acids, such as sulfuric acid.

Many familiar concepts gave way at this stage to the newly rigorous approach of quantitative chemistry. The Life and Work of Lavoisier Antoine Laurent Lavoisier came from a wealthy family, and thus never had to face material problems. He at first followed the family tradition of studying law, and passed the bar examination in 1764. But soon he felt the attraction of his true vocation, the sciences. He began studying botany with Bernard de Jussieu at the Jardin du Roi and later became a student of Guillaume François Rouelle, whose chemistry courses were famous throughout Europe.

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