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Re: Chapter 7: Elemental Matters
Who is Karl Scheele? Did anyone ever hear of him (before reading ch 7 of this book)? We are told that Scheele was a poor pharmacist from Sweden with little scientific equipment, yet was the discoverer of eight elements including oxygen, nitrogen and chlorine. In the case of oxygen, we know from our high school chemistry class that the glory of discovery went to Joseph Priestly who actually discovered it in 1774, two years after Scheele's discovery. As to chlorine, the text books give the credit to Humphry Davy, even though he didn't make his discovery until thirty-six years after Scheele.
This took me back to a little French story I read some time ago where an American student and a Parisian student were having an argument about where certain discoveries were made. The French student claimed that Charles Cros invented the phonograph, Denis Papin the steam boat and Daguerre photography. The American student was certain that the three inventions were made by Edison, Robert Fulton and Eastman, respectively. The students were getting different stories within the two different countries. It would seem that there is much that determines who gets credit for discoveries and inventions including the position of the country on the world stage, the resources available to the scientist to promote his work, luck, etc.
Among other things, I am appreciating the extensive research Bryson did to uncover these rich and interesting stories around the important discoveries of the last few hundred years.
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