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Revolutionary Chemistry

Forget Ben Franklin and his kite. Chemists have their answer to Philadelphia’s gregarious Founding Father in Joseph Priestley, an 18th century clergyman, teacher, philosopher, and scientist. Priestley shared the credit for discovering oxygen with Carl Wilhelm Scheele and Antoine Lavoisier, and he spent his final years in a country house in Pennsylvania.

At the ACS Meeting, Joseph Priestley (actually chemistry teacher and reenactor Ronald Blatchley) is showcasing some of his more famous experiments. Fire? Check. Loud ‘pops’ and ‘bangs’? Check.

I asked Priestley whether he ascribes to a credo that pops up a lot on C&ENtral Science, “Chemistry is everywhere.”
He told me that chemistry is all around us, indeed in the very air we breathe. However, Priestley went on to say, “I studied chemistry to understand the mind and work of God, which is also everywhere.”
Spoken like a true Enlightenment-era scholar.

He will be performing experiments at the expo again on Wednesday from 9AM to noon (Convention Center Halls A/B, Booth 1557).

Joseph Priestley describes “dephlogisticated air”, which is what we today call oxygen.

Priestley describes how to make “dephlogisticated air” (oxygen) using household ingredients.

The demos go out with a bang, as Priestley combines “dephlogisticated air” (oxygen) and Cavendish’s air (hydrogen) in a soda bottle to make a familiar liquid.


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  • Aug 19th 200815:08
    by Rachel Pepling

    Aha! So that was the loud bang we kept hearing in the expo hall yesterday…

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    Oct 30th 200909:10
    by Priestley House’s Grand Re-Opening at C&ENtral Science

    [...] PA residence. Expect period costumes, guided tours of the house, and most importantly, whiz-bang chemistry demonstrations courtesy of Ronald Blatchley, who’ll once again step into the role of [...]

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