Getting It Wrong

Good to see some light-hearted history in the latest edition of The Scientist, but some of it appears incorrect.1 Karl Wilhelm Scheele did not discover arsenic. Arsenic compounds were known to the ancients, and the element's discovery is attributed to Albertus Magnus (1193-1280). Neither did Scheele discover nitrogen, let alone by 'sniffing it' (since nitrogen is an odorless gas). The discovery of nitrogen (in 1772) is attributed to Daniel Rutherford (1749-1819).

And 'Humphrey Davy' (it's actually Humphry, without the 'e', later to become Sir), did not breathe 16 quarts of nitric oxide (i.e., NO) but nitrous oxide (i.e., N2O, or laughing gas). His and his friends' recollections (including those of the poets Samuel Taylor Coleridge and Robert Southey; Thomas Wedgwood, the son of Josiah Wedgwood of pottery fame; and Joseph Priestley among others) are written in Davy's Researches, Chemical and Philosophical; Chiefly Concerning Nitrous Oxide...

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