His Early Association With Humphrey Davy

Davy's days of lecturing at the institution were coming to an end but Faraday attended his last ones. These were about the nature of acids. There was a commonly held belief that all acids contained oxygen; in fact 'oxy' and 'gen' in Greek refer loosely to 'acid making'. Davy showed at the lectures, however, that hydrochloric acid contained nothing but hydrogen and chlorine. This, in the day, was pretty mind blowing stuff and yet again Faraday was fascinated and took copious notes.

He was determined on having a career in science and he wrote to Davy asking if he could be considered for a job, and enclosed his copious notes to show how enthusiastic he was about science and research. He couldn't have picked a better time.

True to form Davy had been carrying out some dangerous experiments involving combination of nitrogen and chlorine and he caused an explosion. He was injured with glass in his eyes so he needed a part-time assistant. Faraday's current employer, the bookbinder, was good enough to let him take time off so Faraday got the job; another major milestone in his career. The assistant to the new Professor of Chemistry at the Institution got the sack for misbehaviour; Davy recommended Faraday for the job and he got it! the benefits included accommodation at the Institute and Faraday's feet were well and truly under the table.

Although his employment was with the Institute he still assisted Davy with his experiments. This was not the safest of tasks. He was wise enough to wear a mask to protect his eyes but after several more explosions his hands were damaged. This didn't put him off though and when Davy invited him to join him, his wife and her maid on a tour of Europe he accepted. Despite there still being a state of war between England and France a passport was issued by Napoleon no less and there was no objection from the British government; indeed that pillar of the establishment 'The Times' expressed a wish, jokingly of course (or perhaps not), that Boney would keep Davy in France!

Davy, with assistance from Faraday, proceeded to put a few noses out of joint by proving to the French, much to their annoyance, iodine was not a compound but an element; he experimented with electric fish and proved that diamond was just a complex form of carbon. He was enjoying himself immensely but then the word came that Bonaparte had been defeated and subsequently exiled to Elba. however the following year Napoleon escaped; fearing possible trouble in Europe as a result the party returned to England; and Faraday to unemployment.

In the meanwhile Davy was asked if he could find a way of making the lighting systems for coalmines safer. There had been a spate of explosions caused by methane gas (called 'firedamp') being ignited by miners' lamps; with help from Faraday he devised the safety lamp which bore his name. To complicate matters a mining engineer called George Stephenson had also invented one at pretty much the same time; there was a great deal of controversy and arguments between them over who had been the first. However, Davy's reputation, and the fact that he had been made a baronet, perhaps swayed public opinion; either way the new lamp is still known as a Davy Lamp and not a Stephenson one!