Gay-Lussac and Thenard

  • Joseph Louis Gay-Lussac


Joseph Louis Gay-Lussac (St. Léonard, Haute Vienne, 6 December 1778-Paris, 9 May 1850) was the son of Antoine Gay, a judge, who on moving to St. Léonard called himself Gay-Lussac. Joseph entered the École Polytechnique in 1797; in 1800 he attracted the attention of Berthollet, the professor of chemistry, and worked in his house at Arcueil, at first on physical subjects, and he also acted as demonstrator to Fourcroy. In 1805–6 he travelled with A. von Humboldt and was elected to the Institut in 1806. In 1809 Gay-Lussac became professor of chemistry in the École Polytechnique and of physics in the Sorbonne. In 1818 he became superintendent of the Government gunpowder factory, and in 1829 chief assayer in the Mint. In 1832 he resigned from the Sorbonne and became professor of chemistry at the Jardin des Plantes. He became a peer of France in 1839. He married in 1808, meeting his future wife in a linen draper’s office, where found her reading a book on chemistry. He had her educated in English and Italian. In later life the necessity for providing for a large family caused Gay-Lussac to spend more time on experimental technical and consultative work, and he became increasingly rather cold and reserved. Christison,1 who heard Gay-Lussac’s lectures in 1820, says he had a slender and handsome figure, his voice was gentle but firm and clear, his diction terse and choice, and the lecture was ‘a superlative specimen of continuous unassailable experimental reasoning’. Dumas seems to have modelled his lecturing style on Gay-Lussac’s.2


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© J. R. Partington 1964

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  • Joseph Louis Gay-Lussac

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