Biography of Humphry Davy

A man wearing an electric headlamp

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Sir Humphry Davy was a famous British inventor, the leading chemist of his day, and a philosopher.


Humphry Davy first isolated pure sodium in 1807 through the electrolysis of caustic soda (NaOH). Then in 1808, he isolated Barium through the electrolysis of molten baryta (BaO). Cool flames were accidentally discovered in 1817 by Humphry Davy, at temperatures as low as 120°C, fuel-air mixtures react chemically and produce very weak flames called cool flames.

In 1809, Humphry Davy invented the first electric light by connecting two wires to a battery and attaching a charcoal strip between the other ends of the wires. The charged carbon glowed making the first arc lamp. Davy later invented the miner's safety lamp in 1815. The lamp called firedamp or minedamp, allowed for the mining of deep seams despite the presence of methane and other flammable gasses.

Humphry Davy's laboratory assistant was Michael Faraday, who went on to extend Davy's work and became famous in his own right.

Key Achievements

  • Proved that it was not using two different metals that made the Voltaic Pile work.
  • Discovered the medical properties of nitrous oxide or laughing gas.
  • Boron compounds have been known for thousands of years, but the element was not discovered until 1808 by Sir Humphry Davy, Gay-Lussac, and Thenard.
  • Performed the first electrochemical decompositions, isolating potassium, sodium, barium, strontium, calcium, and magnesium.
  • Invented the first electric light.
  • Invented the miner's safety lamp.

Quote from Humphry Davy

"Fortunately science, like that nature to which it belongs, is neither limited by time nor by space. It belongs to the world, and is of no country and no age. The more we know, the more we feel our ignorance; the more we feel how much remains unknown..." November 30, 1825