Davy, Sir Humphry
Sir Humphry Davy (1778-1829), son of a woodcarver, started an apprenticeship with a pharmacist at the age of 16 and soon became a respected chemist. In 1798 he dedicated himself completely to science. In 1801, Davy was appointed to a lectureship at the Royal Institution in London , where became Professor of Chemistry in 1802. He was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1803 (and was its president from 1820 to 1826). In 1807 he used an electrochemical method to precipitate out the metal that was thought to be alum and aluminium oxide, but he obtained an iron alloy. He recognised, however, that the metal he was seeking was an independent chemical element, whereby its existence was identified for the first time. Davy proposed the name "alumium", with reference to the alum from which the aluminium oxide was obtained. Later, he called it "aluminum", the word by which it is still known in North America today. In Europe, one has kept to the spelling "aluminium", which was first used by Oersted and Wöhler.
From 1813 onwards, Davy conducted research into the laws of electrolysis and electromagnetism together with one of his students, Faraday, who was later to become famous. Davy also made exceptional contributions in the fields of geology, meteorology, agriculture and photography. He spoke several languages, was devoted to the arts and even gained recognition as a poet. His scientific papers are also linguistic masterpieces.
He was knighted in 1812 and made a baronet in 1818.