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Author: Subject: Amateur/Home Chemistry: Historical Achievements
The_Davster
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[*] posted on 20-12-2007 at 18:48
Amateur/Home Chemistry: Historical Achievements


I am wanting to use this thread for the purpose of collecting a list of great historical achievements by those doing their work outside a 'formal research setting'
I am sure others know of other such instances, I will look for more later myself, as currently the only couple I know by heart is below.

Aluminum production by the cryolite method: Charles Hall discovered it in the woodshed behind his parents' house. Even had to make the batteries to power the electrolyis setup himself.

Radium and related elements: Marie and Pierre Curie did much of their experiments in a shack on their property.

Finding the exact locations of where such discoveries occured is difficult, as before Edison's menlow park lab(being the first commercial research lab of its kind) most research was either done in Academia, or at home, and such distinction was not noted often from what I have seen as a result of noone really caring, and home reseach being commonplace.

[Edited on 20-12-2007 by The_Davster]
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[*] posted on 20-12-2007 at 18:57


I'm sure it was more commonplace in the olden days, when there were simply fewer labs of an official nature. A tricky and interesting question to answer!

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[*] posted on 20-12-2007 at 19:06


Does anyone know how Edison obtained his lab? According to the History Channel documentary he was emplyed as a telegraph operator or something like that and he took a device apart and rebuilt it to run better. His boss was so impressed that he gave Edison $50,000! Now I still have not convinced myself of the realism in this claim. If it is true, I need to find a generous boss!:D:D I guess in those days, business owners where not so worried that if they paid there employees alot that could quit and start there own busniess. Now, we are raised and taught to be good workers and not think for our selves. :(:( A society based on servitude and paid slavery.



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Magpie
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[*] posted on 20-12-2007 at 20:10


It is tough to define a "formal research setting," but I think we all have a gut feeling of what you mean.

I offer two that come quickly to mind:

1. Alfred Nobel's invention of dynamite (the 1st practical use of nitroglycerine as an explosive). He moved around alot between Russia, Paris, and Sweden but much of his inventing was done in a shed on some leased property in Heleneberg outside of Stockholm.

2. Goodyear's discovery of the vulcanization of rubber with sulfur, which I believe happened on his kitchen stove.

[Edited on by Magpie]




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The_Davster
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[*] posted on 20-12-2007 at 23:04


Quote:
Originally posted by Magpie
It is tough to define a "formal research setting," but I think we all have a gut feeling of what you mean.



Exactly. It is any examples that can be amenable to the defence of home chemistry.

Don't forget when Nobel got kicked out of town and moved his laboratory to a barge;). This may not be the best example however:o
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[*] posted on 21-12-2007 at 00:28


The problem with all these examples is that they are from long ago. 100 years ago, much still remained to be discovered.

The fruits in the tree of discovery, which are hanging low, all have been picked already. Nowadays only the high hanging fruits remain, and picking these requires a lot of special apparatus and large investments. So, I am quite pessimistic about world-shocking discoveries in home chemistry labs in the 21st century.

Of course, we all have personal discoveries, and sometimes we find nice methods for making reagents in sich a way, that it becomes practical for home use. Even sometimes we find puzzling things and riddles, which are not yet solved, but all these things definitely are not of the big order as the things of 100 to 200 years ago.




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The_Davster
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[*] posted on 21-12-2007 at 00:40


Oh I am not saying that I still believe such 'easy' discoveries could be made today. I completly agree with you on the low-hanging fruits on the discovery tree.

It is merely a defence of lack of regulation and a rejectment of the climate of fear of today, which if present in those days could have stifled such discoveries.

Would we have rubber today if the DHS/CPSC had prevented goodyear for purchasing some sulfur? Let alone what would be done to Nobel...:o



[Edited on 21-12-2007 by The_Davster]
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[*] posted on 22-12-2007 at 22:51


From _
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vulcanization
" Most textbooks point out that Charles Goodyear (1800–1860) invented
vulcanization of rubber as used today by the addition of sulfur in high heat.
Depending on what you read, the Goodyear story is one of either pure luck
or careful research."

.
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[*] posted on 24-12-2007 at 05:51


Times have changed to such a degree; what with liability laws and public perception, that experimentation itself is frowned on.

In the local university they took the couch and chairs out of the lab. "We don't need that in here". That couch saw some pretty strong thinking at one time...

With fear of injury, often times experimentation itself has been curtailed... "Leaving that out could start a fire"... We live in times that narrows the field of thought "What do you want to make that for?"
It starts to seem obvious that only in places like this that people can dream without someone "policing their actions". But even here the questions are often phrased with care due to sociological influences censoring them.
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[*] posted on 24-12-2007 at 07:16


check this out: http://www.freerepublic.com/focus/f-news/1236856/posts

I actually remember seeing this guy on TV also :)
I think This sentence sums it All up quite nicely:

"It seems that Maurice Ward's greatest strength as a researcher was that he had not been taught how to think."




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[*] posted on 25-12-2007 at 04:08
21st century home experimenter


Some of you may have heard of this guy in Canada. This guy does not have formal scientific or engineering education yet he comes up with some novel concepts of his own. In this case he is able to reach the higher fruits of discovery by mere persistance. This "fire paste" invention he came up with he reportedly tries 1,700 times. I am very inspired by his adventurous spirit but I take all with a grain of salt. I have yet to see a patent in his name and some of his ideas are quite sensational. But before I ramble on too much, heres the link:Firepaste Inventor



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The_Davster
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[*] posted on 25-12-2007 at 10:02


There is also this kid in Alberta, who succeeded in making bullet proof armour for a science fair, and the RCMP is currently testing it.
Quote:

By THE CANADIAN PRESS

SPRUCE GROVE — RCMP snipers took aim at Darren Shulte’s Grade 9 science project last week, firing at his non-ceramic bullet-proof plate to see if it could save lives.

Shulte, of St. Albert, created the plate five years ago for a junior high school science fair when he was just 13 years old.

Now, law enforcement officials are taking his invention seriously, with even Defence Minister Peter MacKay showing an interest.

“This is my life right now,” Shulte told CTV Edmonton. “There isn’t anything else.”

The plate is designed to be worn inside a tactical vest by police and military personnel. Unlike other such plates, it isn’t made from ceramic or Kevlar.

Shulte wouldn’t divulge the materials he used, but the plate has gone through several revisions.

http://www.reddeeradvocate.com/portals-code/list.cgi?paper=1...
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[*] posted on 21-1-2008 at 08:17


not sure if This applies but both Lee and Perrins were both Chemists, and the recipe for Worcester sauce was given to them, they tried it and it was disgusting, they left it in the cellar for 3 years and after that time it had changed flavor, and became the product we know now!

http://leaperrins.com/myths/legends.php
http://www.foodhistory.com/foodnotes/leftovers/sauce/worcest...




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[*] posted on 22-1-2008 at 05:52


It occurred to me that a great deal of patents are the result of home experimentation. Just how many would be anyone's guess however at a certain period in history almost all chemistry patents would come from "home experimentation" settings!
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[*] posted on 22-1-2008 at 09:45


Leo Baekland invented Bakelite in his home laboratory in Yonkers, NY in the early
years of the twentieth century.

http://www.chemheritage.org/classroom/chemach/plastics/baeke...
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[*] posted on 12-3-2008 at 22:18
No more cataracts




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S.C. Wack
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[*] posted on 13-3-2008 at 04:08


It should be mentioned that Scheele, although technically a professional chemist, quite casually experimented with HCN, arsenicals, etc. in a shed. Although many newer refs ascribe his early death to chemicals, say to dropping an ampoule of liquid HCN, mercury poisoning, etc., the good, long older references do not blame chemical exposure, and there isn't really any evidence for it AFAIK. Many chemists have tasted their materials and lived quite long.

From one of a few such older refs on Google, a partial list of accomplishments:

"We owe to Scheele our first knowledge of chlorine and of the individuality of manganese and baryta. He was an independent discoverer of oxygen, ammonia, and hydrochloric acid gas. He discovered also hydrofluoric, nitro-sulphonic, molybdic, tungstic, and arsenic acids among the inorganic acids and lactic, gallic, pyrogallic, oxalic, citric, tartaric, malic, mucic, and uric among the organic acids. He isolated glycerin and milk sugar determined the nature of microcosmic salt, borax, and Prussian blue, and prepared hydrocyanic acid. He demonstrated that plumbago is nothing but carbon associated with more or less iron, and that the black powder left on solution of cast iron in mineral acids is essentially the same substance. He ascertained the chemical nature of sulphuretted hydrogen, discovered arsenetted hydrogen, and the green arsenical pigment which is associated with his name. He invented new processes for preparing ether, powder of algaroth, phosphorus, calomel, and magnesia alba. His services to quantitative chemistry included the discovery of ferrous ammonium sulphate, and of the methods still in use for the analytical separation of iron and manganese, and for the decomposition of mineral silicates by fusion with alkaline carbonates."

Essays in Historical Chemistry
By Thomas Edward Thorpe
http://books.google.com/books?id=rCJDAAAAIAAJ

He did all this and more mostly at night and at home over 20 years, while working by day as a pharmacist. An all-time hero of scientific method.
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Neil
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[*] posted on 22-3-2008 at 19:10


http://acswebcontent.acs.org/landmarks/landmarks/cal/index.h...

acetylene and calcium carbide by Thomas Willson perhaps?
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microcosmicus
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[*] posted on 22-3-2008 at 20:17


Of course, in the days of Scheele, the line between amateur and
professional scientist was rather blurry. It must have been interesting
and exciting doing chemistry in those days when it was still taking off
as an exact science, with the notion of chemical element, the atomic
theory, and other things we take for granted as foundations were being
invented. Of course, the excitement is still there, just the position of
the frontier has moved; someone 200 years later will surely take our state
of the art for granted and look back at us similarly.

The following quote from the Wikipedia biography should prove an
inspiration to us all:

Quote:

Correspondence between Lavoisier and Scheele indicate that Scheele
achieved interesting results without the advanced laboratory equipment
that Lavoisier was accustomed to.


Quote:

He did all this and more mostly at night and at home over 20 years,
while working by day as a pharmacist. An all-time hero of scientific method.


This reminds me of Weierstrass who invented modern
mathematical analysis under similar circumstances. While
it can be rough going, there is something to be said for working
persistently on the research one thinks considers important free
of distractions such a pressure to publish or pleasing funding
agencies even if one has to do it after hours. Too me, such a
course seems the surest approach towards profound discoveries,
even the discovery of whole new fields of science.

[Edited on 23-3-2008 by microcosmicus]
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[*] posted on 9-4-2008 at 16:32
Moldy bread


While by no means an amateur, even seasoned professionals have humble beginnings.

His name was Fleming, and he was a poor Scottish farmer. One day, while trying
to make a living for his family, he heard a cry for help coming from a nearby bog.
He dropped his tools and ran to the bog. There, mired to his waist in black muck,
was a terrified boy, screaming and struggling to free himself. Farmer Fleming
saved the lad from what could have been a slow and terrifying death. The next
day, a fancy carriage pulled up to the Scotsman's sparse surroundings and an
elegantly dressed nobleman stepped out and introduced himself as the father of
the boy Farmer Fleming had saved.

'I want to repay you,' said the nobleman. 'You saved my son's life.'
'No, I can't accept payment for what I did,' the Scottish farmer replied waving
off the offer. At that moment, the farmer's own son came to the door of the
family hovel.
'Is that your son?' the nobleman asked.
'Yes,' the farmer replied proudly.
'I'll make you a deal. Let me provide him with the level of education my own son
will enjoy. If the lad is anything like his father, he'll no doubt grow to be a man
we both will be proud of.' And that he did.

Farmer Fleming's son attended the very best schools and in time, graduated from
Saint Mary's Hospital Medical School in London, and went on to become known
throughout the world as the noted Sir Alexander Fleming, the discoverer of Penicillin.
Years afterward, the same nobleman's son who was saved from the bog was stricken
with pneumonia. What saved his life this time? Penicillin.
The name of the nobleman? Lord Randolph Churchill.
His son's name? Sir Winston Churchill.

Someone once said: What goes around comes around.

.
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[*] posted on 9-4-2008 at 19:07


Well, you all may not remember the name, but I'm sure the story's familiar to most of you...

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/David_Hahn

Definitely enough to be considered a real amature achievement (even though never completed!):D

Josh




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[*] posted on 10-4-2008 at 12:38


I'm surprised that no one has mentioned Perkin and his at-home discovery of mauveine at the age of 18, which resulted in the launch of the British aniline dye industry and an enormous struggle between Britain and Germany for commercial supremacy in that field.

He was a student of von Hoffman at the Royal College of Chemistry, but conducted most of his experiments at home.

Perkin became fabulously rich as a result and devoted himself to pure research.

The small contratemps that Perkin hadn't a clue about structural chemistry and blundered his way into success and fortune does not distract from his accomplishment. (Look at Bill Gates.)

-----------------

There have been threads on David Hahn already. NOT someone I would choose as an icon for home science. A good example of complete irresponsibility giving amateur science a bad name.

[Edited on 11-4-2008 by Sauron]

[Edited on 11-4-2008 by Sauron]




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[*] posted on 10-4-2008 at 15:29


Quote:

David Hahn... [is] NOT someone I would choose as an icon for home science. A good example of complete irresponsibility giving amateur science a bad name.


I'll accept that criticism, and in all honesty I agree, though it is still impressive in its own way.

Josh




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[*] posted on 10-4-2008 at 15:44


David Hahn is both a great failure and wonderful success of home chemistry. Leaning towards great failure. He stole, cheated, harmed others, broke the law and really did not safely pursue chemistry at an amateur level. However, he managed to study nuclear chemistry on an amateur level, a colossal achievement i think, considering how challenging obtaining radioactive materials can be.

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[*] posted on 10-4-2008 at 22:43


Shit! I post about Perkin, and no one has a word to say.

But David Hahn, a great exemplar of what NOT to do, that's a hot topic.

There's no justice.




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