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  • 12/20/2003


(December 21, 1805- September 16, 1869)

Thomas Graham was born inGlasgow, Scotland, on December 21, 1805. His father was a prosperous manufacturer who wanted his son to become a minister of the Church of Scotland. Graham entered the University of Glasgow in 1819 at the age of 14. While there, he was strongly influenced by the chemistry lectures of Thomas Thomson to enter the field. After receiving his M.A. at Glasgow in 1826, he worked for two years with Thomas Charles Hope at the University of Edinburgh. He then returned to Glasgow, where he privately taught mathematics and chemistry for one year. In 1829, he became an assistant at a school to teach workingmen science and then in 1830 he became a professor of chemistry atAnderson's College (later the Royal College of Science and Technology) in Glasgow.
In 1834 Graham became a fellow of the Royal Society and three years later moved to London to become professor of chemistry at the recently founded University College (now a part the University of London). In 1841 he helped to found the Chemical Society of London, which was the first national chemistry society setting an example for the formation of similar societies in France (1857), Germany (1867), and the United States (1876). Graham became the first president of the Chemical Society of London. In 1844 with the death of Dalton, Graham was generally acnowledged to be the leading chemist in England. He remained at the University College for 20 years until 1854, when he was appointed master of the mint (a post that Newton had occupied and that ceased to exist at Graham's death.) He remained there until his death on September 16, 1869.
Graham never really overcame a certain nervousness and hesitancy. However, this did not seem to affect his ability as a teacher since he made up for these deficiencies by being conscientious, organized, logical, and accurate. When he became master of the mint, it was generally expected that he would treat the position as a sinecure, but Graham took the position so seriously that he stopped all his research for several years while he organized the operation of the mint. For his work Graham received several awards including the Royal Medal of the Royal Society twice (1837 and 1863), the Copley Medal of the Royal Society (1862), and the Prix Jecker of the Paris Academy of Sciences (1862). In addition his textbook,Elements of Chemistry, was widely used in both England and in Europe.

Scientific Work

Graham's work mainly can be described now as being physical chemistry. However, his interests were extremely varied and included the following:

diffusion of gases (Graham's law)

the absorption of gases by charcoal

solubility of gases

colloids and emulsions

phosphorus compounds including phosphine and inorganic phosphates

the aurora borealis

the absorption of hydrogen gas by palladium metal

the determination of the formulas of the three phosphoric acids

the adulteration of coffee (in an article in theJournal of the Chemical Society of London in 1857 titled " Report on the Mode of Detecting Vegetable Substances mixed with coffee for the Purpose of Adulteration"

the production of alcohol during bread-making (enough for Graham to burn and ignite gunpowder.)

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