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Humphry Davy

1778 – 1829

Humphry Davy was a scientist, born in Cornwall. From early on, he had a reputation for being charismatic and experimental. His sister complained about the damage to her dresses by his early experiments. Later in life, Humphry blew up his own lab and lost an eye. At university, he was known for making and inhaling laughing gas with poet friends Robert Southey and Samuel Taylor Coleridge.

Humphry pioneered electrolysis and discovered chlorine. He toured Europe, conducting experiments as he went, setting fire to diamonds and discovering iodine. His lectures were always packed out by droves of adoring fans.

After receiving a medal from Napoleon in 1813, for his inventions, Humphry came home to Britain and found a letter from Felling, Co. Durham. The letter detailed a horrible pit explosion which had killed over a hundred people, half of them boys. In response, Humphry invented the miner’s safety lamp, which used mesh to separate flame from explosive gas. As a result, thousands of miners’ lives were saved.

‘to have assisted … a cause so interesting to humanity’.

— Humphry wrote that the lamp was one of his proudest achievements
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